Congratulations are in order for the Gimli International Film Festival’s Founder and Chair Janis Johnson, who has been appointed to the Order of Canada! It was announced in late-November 2020 that the former Senator had been awarded the prestigious recognition “for her long-standing career in the public service, and for her contributions to Manitoba’s arts and culture scene.”
The Order of Canada is one of the nation’s highest honours. It recognizes the outstanding merit of Canadians who make a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions across multiple fields.
Janis Gudrun Johnson is a Gimli native and former Canadian Senator representing the province of Manitoba. She was appointed to the Senate in 1990 and was the longest-serving Conservative member of the Upper Chamber. Over her 26 years in the Senate, she served on or chaired over a dozen Senate Committees, including Foreign Affairs, Fisheries and Oceans, Transport and Communications, Aboriginal Peoples, Human Rights and the Committee on Internal Economy.
Johnson is also the Founder and current Chair of the Board of the Gimli International Film Festival. In 2001, Johnson first undertook a project to screen Icelandic cinema in tandem with Gimli’s Icelandic Festival, including screening Guy Maddin’s first feature film Tales from Gimli Hospital on the beach – GFF’s first beach screening!
“Our first run of films was a tremendous success as moviegoers loved watching films on the beach under the stars. Each and every night, the crowds grew and the sands of the beaches were covered with a multi-coloured patchwork of blankets. The popular response convinced us that film had found a home in Gimli – but what now?” said Johnson in this article.
From these humble beginnings began the Gimli International Film Festival, which would transition into a stand-alone event in 2004, and eventually grow to become Manitoba’s premier Film Festival and the largest rural Film Festival in all of Canada, with over 13,000 attendees in 2019.
“For the next three years, we would continue to hold the film festival on the Islendingadagurinn weekend until the GFF grew too large, leading our team to make it a stand-alone event and move it to every third week of July. In these subsequent years, we had paid summer employees as well as indoor screenings within four locales along with an impressive program focusing on Canadian feature films, shorts and documentaries. By 2010, we had become the largest rural film festival in the country and one of the major Canadian film festivals in Western Canada,” said Johnson.
Prior to her appointment to the Senate of Canada, Senator Johnson owned her own consulting firm, Janis Johnson & Associates, conducting extensive work on social policies including women’s health and equality issues, aboriginal affairs and cultural policy.
Johnson was a member of the CN Board of Directors for five years – one of the first women appointed to this board in 1986. During her tenure, she led the way in the establishment of the first on-site child care facility within a Crown Corporation in Canada.
Volunteerism has been a fundamental aspect throughout Senator Johnson’s life and career. Her volunteer work was instrumental in starting and growing the Gimli International Film Festival, and she was also on the founding board of the Manitoba Special Olympics in 1981 and later became a Director with Special Olympics Canada.
Johnson has been active in the arts and cultural community in Manitoba and Canada, serving for two decades on the advisory board of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and on the boards of Prairie Theatre Exchange (Winnipeg) and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, in addition to ther 21-years dedicated as a Gimli International Film Festival Board Member.
Join all of us at GFF in congratulating Janis on this incredible and deserved achievement!