A ‘maelstrom of urgency and creativity’

Winnipeg’s 48-hour film challenge goes national

Ben Williams, founder of the 48 Film Festival

Making a film can be hard work in the best of times. From writing a script to the sound design, many people have to come together to complete a film. The 48 Film Festival, formerly a Winnipeg-only event, challenges filmmakers from across Canada to do all of that in a mere two days. 

Ben Williams founded the challenge in 2014 and ran the festival on behalf of the Winnipeg Film Group for the first six years. This year, the festival has graduated to become Williams’ own project, with a recent incorporation and nationalization of the festival. 

Williams and his collaborator, legendary film director Guy Maddin, have partnered with organizations from 10 Canadian provinces and two territories to create a nation-wide challenge. After the challenge is completed, each participating organization will host a screening of the films from their area in August. Two films will be selected from each province or territory for the screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre in spring 2022, which is home to the Toronto International Film Festival. 

According to Maddin, there are creative benefits to the time constraint. “It forces you to find solutions from within, and quickly. You don’t have time to overthink things,” Maddin says. “Everyone is thrust into the same maelstrom of urgency and creativity and problem-solving and the energy and sleeplessness and the delirium of the whole dream of making these things all come to a head at the same time.”

Past winners of the Winnipeg contest have gone on to have full filmmaking careers, including BJ Verot, who later won CBC’s Short Film Faceoff, winning $40,000. Other previous winners have included Ian Bawa and Nicola Baldwin. 

Williams, who also co-founded the Aboriginal Filmmakers Collective with Roger Boyer, is proud of the number of filmmakers from marginalized communities who have won in the past. They used to keep three spots reserved for members of the collective but found that enough Indigenous filmmakers were entering that it wasn’t necessary. The expansion of the festival means even more marginalized voices from across Canada can be elevated. 

“We’re the only (festival) of our kind at the national level,” Williams says. With this expansion, and an Indiegogo campaign set to launch in April, he hopes to be able to cover artist fees of the winners and offer impressive prizes. 

Next year, Williams hopes to have arts organizations involved from all parts of Canada, including Quebec and Nunavut. That way, filmmakers (with or without industry experience) from all over the country will have films played at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

“Just imagine the opportunity for all the Canadian provinces and territories being represented,” Williams says. 

“If you’re coming at it from completely different points of the compass ... that is at its heart very serious (or a light comedy) or reflects a voice that comes from a marginalized space, whatever it is, it’s getting it out there,” Maddin says. “It’s important ... for the voice to be heard within its own community, but it’s (also) pretty important to get it outside of that community.”

Team registration for the challenge runs until the end of March. Register for the challenge at the48filmfest.ca and stay tuned for more information on the Indiegogo campaign in April and the local screening in August. 

Published in Volume 75, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 17, 2021)

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