Calgary's Sled Island festival: Activating community through music and film

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The documentary film 'She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column' recently screened at the Sled Island Festival in Calgary.

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This year's Sled Island festival in Calgary featured a diverse line-up of films - designed to compliment the festival and its cultural vision. The film programming helped kicked the festival off, with the first film showing Monday, June 18 and the last - an outdoor showcase of classic retro anti-drug and propaganda films - screening Wednesday June 20.

Jeanette Burman, the festival's film programmer, told, "I'm quite proud of the program and everyone is really excited about it. It is very much in the same vein as the rest of Sled Island programming. It is about discovery, it is about unique gems, it is about showing art in unique venues."

Music and film

The largest aspect and the biggest draw of the festival is the music, so many of the films that were chosen are music related. Burman explains that they are always trying to program a solid batch of music related films. She also emphasizes the "we" in the program creation. As with all of the festival, it is a collaborative process, taking in opinions and thoughts from everyone to ensure a well-rounded vision is implemented in the film choices. "The whole festival team - from the festival director to the office manager, work very closely together."

Burman worked with Erin Fox to curate the shorts that were shown this year as part of the film festival. They were shown in conjunction to the feature length films. Partnered with Show us your Shorts, Sled Island presented a showcase that featured five films under 30 minutes, four of which are Canadian made, and a competition. The Wednesday night Shorts Package - Competition showcased eight independent films.

The feature length films range from an in-depth look at Vancouver's punk scene in the late 70s to early 80s, to a survey of how artists view gig posters, to an experimental documentary that follows a route forged by four others decades before filmmaker Matt McCormick decided to re-crete their journey throughout the northwest of the United States. Burman explains a little of the vision that guided the film programming, "we are not just looking for films about music, or the hottest band right now, but films that have something else unique about them."

"We are looking for a majority of independent cinema from directors that have a unique way of looking at something. Whether it be a band, or an environment, or something that is personally close to them." Burman points to the film Lost and Sound, directed by Lindsey Dryden. The film explores how three people experience sound and music despite hearing loss. "The director herself is partially deaf, so she was able to bring a very sensitive and unique perspective to that film."

Many of the film screenings also featured a screening of a short beforehand and special guests for a post-film question and answer session. Don Pyle of the band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, and a former member of Fifth Column, attended the screening of She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column. Pyle hosted a Q & A after the screening, recalling his personal experience playing in Fifth Column, as well as his experience working artistically in that environment. For many of these films, this was the Alberta premiere.

Building community

Like many other members of the Sled Island team, Burman has been a volunteer since Sled's inception. "The film program is a great opportunity for us to allow film within the overall vision of the festival."

This is Jeanette's fourth year doing the film programming and she sees incredible opportunities to connect and build relationships with artists from all over the world. As well, mentorship is offered by more established artists to those just starting out. "It is a great equalizer. There is a great opportunity to meet people established in their respective industry and we see that in the film programming and that availability for mentorship."

Burman echos what many others have said about their experience with Sled Island. "To me Sled Island is really important, not only to the Calgary music community, but to Calgary as whole. It makes the city a much more interesting place to live and it allows people to experience new art in a different context. It is a community activator."


Jennifer Prosser is a Lethbridge resident, and a born and raised Albertan. A blogger, social media coordinator and consultant, and freelance journalist.

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