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Sault community a good fit for international films, says association president

Algoma International Film Association is the subject of this week’s What’s Up Wednesday

For several years, the Algoma International Film Association (AIFA) has been offering Saultites alternatives to Hollywood movies by screening foreign films at Galaxy Cinemas.

“AIFA is a community-based, volunteer-run organization. Two things keep AIF running; people who enjoy seeing films on the big screen and our volunteers. The organization is really run by a group of volunteers who keep the operation going,” said Mark Stevenson, Algoma International Film Association president, speaking to SooToday.  

AIFA is currently in the winter portion of its 2019-2020 schedule, having recently shown the film Parasite, which won Academy Awards for 2019’s Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.

Season passes are available for the entire film schedule, or a subscription will get you a discounted admission fee to any single film.  

“That really goes a long way toward helping our financial situation. Currently we pay 35 per cent of our gross to Cineplex for renting the theatre, 35 per cent goes to the film distributor, and there’s a five per cent booking fee for TIFF’s film circuit. TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) does a lot of the hard work connected to maintaining relationships with film distributors and venues like Cineplex,” Mark said.

“We show six films in the fall, and eight in the winter.”  

AIFA can trace its roots to the Algoma College Film Society, in the days when Algoma University College was housed at Sault College, the film society’s members using the Princess Theatre on Gore Street to screen films in the late 1960s.

Mark, who said “I’m British by birth, raised and educated in the States, living in Canada by choice,” moved to the Sault in the mid 1970s, becoming audio visual services supervisor at Algoma University College.

“I had projectors and we started showing films, 16mm prints, in the auditorium. We slowly worked on getting better equipment, improving the sound, a bigger screen over the years, but that’s really where it started.”

The group has survived such things as the arrival of movies on VHS tapes, DVDs and Netflix.

“By 1991, we were part of a film circuit which included other communities and venues in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay... eventually it became a division of TIFF, and that occasioned the move from 16mm to 35mm film prints,” Mark said.

With bigger film prints, the group was able to use the former Station Cinema in Station Mall, which was later replaced by Galaxy Cinemas when the mall went through renovations.

AIFA will screen, in partnership with the Sault’s Shadows of the Mind Film Festival which runs Feb. 22 to March 1, the French film And The Birds Rained Down on Thursday, Feb. 27 at Galaxy Cinemas.

“About 20 years ago Mike O’Shea approached me and a mutual friend, Ray Diotte, and asked me if I wanted to start a film festival which dealt with mental health issues. Shadows of the Mind is the name we eventually came up with. We still cooperate with Shadows. We do a joint screening during the Shadows festival, and we enjoy that relationship,” Mark said.

International films offer something different for film fans.

“When I moved to the Sault, it didn’t take me long to realize the Sault is an amazing place in terms of the national background of its citizens. They come from all over. You only have to look at the flags that are flying around the Civic Centre to realize what a diverse population we have, and it’s still growing and expanding with international students,” Mark said.

“Even back in the 70s I was struck by this, so I thought here’s an opportunity to offer films from around the world that people may resonate with.” 

“One I recall vividly was an Italian film called The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” Mark said.

“It really shows the experience of being a peasant farmer in Italy where you worked somebody else’s land. The landlord could kick you off and you were basically homeless. It was a simple film but incredibly beautiful.”

More information on the Algoma International Film Association, such as the remaining films in its 2019-2020 schedule, admission and subscription fees and contact information, may be found on its website.