Hello! My name is Alan Wong and I’m excited and honoured to be the new Executive Director of the Gimli International Film Festival. Before I started working for the festival at the beginning of the year, I had been attending as a fan, then a filmmaker, then as a sponsor representative. Each time, it was always magical – watching movies and hanging out with all these great people on the beautiful shores of Lake Winnipeg, surrounded by nature and the welcoming atmosphere of Gimli. But even before I attended my first festival back in 2017, I had heard about their famous beach screenings as a uniquely Manitoban experience. One that leaves an impression on everyone who gets to enjoy watching a movie under the stars, the gentle sound of waves lapping in the background.
Everyone who has ever played a part in this festival’s growth and success, from past leadership and staff, volunteers, filmmakers, sponsors, partners, donors, and ticket buyers alike, should all be proud of what the Gimli International Film Festival has been able to accomplish. It is now widely recognized as the premiere film festival in Manitoba and is the largest rural film festival in all of Canada. No small feat for its founders and the amazing people who have steered the ship (pardon the pun) for the last 21 years!
Growing up, I spent many years in small Manitoba towns, so I know the kind of community spirit, dedication, and hard work that it must have taken to put those first few festivals on. Fast forward to today, and the festival is in good shape, even weathering through the past two pandemic summers (albeit having to drastically change the way it engages with its audiences). For that, I must praise Aaron Zeghers, the former Festival Director, for his adept and creative leadership, pivoting through adversity and the growing COVID-19 crisis to present one of the earliest and most comprehensive virtual film festivals of 2020 with only four months to make the switch. Having Aaron mentor and train me in the operations of the festival this past year was a like a masterclass in “How to Run a Successful Film Festival”, and I am extremely grateful for his support and confidence in my abilities. I wish him the best in his future endeavours and know he’ll accomplish more great things (like making amazing movies for us to show!). Likewise, I must thank the GFF Board of Directors and especially its Chair, the Honourable Janis Johnson, for believing in me and my vision for the future of the festival.
As many in Manitoba might have noticed by all the news articles and celebrity sightings, our province has been a hotbed of film & TV production for the past few years. This is due to many factors: our diversity of locations and ecosystems; a growing talent base of filmmakers, performers, technicians, artists, and film tradespeople; fueled by a demand for content from big Hollywood studios, streaming platforms, broadcasters; as well as a strong independent Canadian film scene. All these things lead to a healthy and prosperous media entertainment sector, providing jobs and opportunities for creators to hone their craft. The Gimli International Film Festival is where everyone is welcome to come together and celebrate the best in local, Canadian, and international film.
While the future is still uncertain, I can promise you that, if we are able, we will bring back that sense of celebration – that festival feeling – to Gimli! It has been too long, and we all miss it. I can tell you that exciting plans are underway, and more information will be released in early 2022! Until then, I will be hard at work, learning the ropes and building my relationships with the community, because a festival like GFF doesn’t happen on its own. It is the tireless efforts of hundreds of people, coming together to create a bit of magic under the stars. So, to all the Gimli folks, if you see me out on the street, don’t be afraid to say hi and tell me your GFF story (I’m sure everyone’s got one), and if you DON’T have one yet, whether you’re from Gimli or elsewhere, it’s never too late. ? See you at the festival next summer.