The melodious films of Sled Island

By Sean Willett

During the six days of Sled Island, music reigns supreme. With hundreds of bands playing at venues across the city, it is the most visible and dominant part of the festival.

Yet, the extent of music’s reach does not lie solely within the realm of its own medium — the films of Sled Island are just as musical as its bands.

Film has always been a growing part of Sled Island since the festival’s inception six years ago.

“There has been a film element to Sled Island since 2007,” explains Jeanette Burman, the film programmer for this year’s festival. “However, it wasn’t really formalized the way it is today, with the number of films and the type of films, until 2009.”

Composed of seven feature-length films and two short-film showcases screened over three days, the film portion of Sled Island makes up a significant part of this year’s festival. The films selected for screening were carefully chosen by the festival’s programmers in order to ensure that they would appeal to Sled Island attendees.

“We were looking for films that would be pertinent and of interest to our audience,” explains Burman. “So there are a lot of music-related documentaries and a lot of sound-related documentaries.”

However, simply being centred around music is not enough to warrant a film’s inclusion in Sled Island — like the bands chosen to perform, the films screened at the festival have to showcase something out of the ordinary.

“We’re interested in picking films that have a unique vision to them within the independent community,” says Burman. “So not just straight ahead ‘rockumentaries’ that are sort of like Wikipedia pages, but rather documentaries with certain edges and themes to them rather than just ‘this person did this at this time.’ We definitely want a unique independent spirit that matches the rest of the festival.”

Among the many alternative music documentaries being shown at the festival is She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column. Directed by Toronto filmmaker Kevin Hegge, the film tells the story of Fifth Column, an all-female art punk band that helped influence the queer art scene in the early ’80s. Hegge, who is involved in Toronto’s alternative and queer art scenes, wanted to create a film that combined his experiences with his love of art punk music.

“Having made some shorter works, I decided that I wanted to make a feature-length film,” explains Hegge. “It would bring all of the experiences and connections that I had in my life together into one project.”

Hegge explains that he chose to have the film centred on the members of Fifth Column because of his desire to tell a story that he feels should have already been told.

“Why hasn’t someone made this already?” he says. “I work at a record store . . . and there are a lot of punk rockers buying all of this hardcore music, which all seems to follow this formula of having a bunch of angry white dudes from privileged backgrounds making pretty standard punk rock. I found the fanaticism around that sort of alienating, because I wondered why there wasn’t more focus on the experimental punk rock that happened in the early ’80s. So I wanted to make this project that showed this other story that involves people doing much more challenging work and creating a sort of cult legacy.”

Hegge also feels that the all-female composition of the band, along with their involvement in the queer art scene, may have prevented Fifth Column from receiving the recognition they deserved.

“One has to wonder why the stories rooted in the work of women and queer people are often overlooked,” says Hegge. “Oftentimes people in those groups tend to be doing work that is more challenging, and the more challenging the work, the smaller the audience typically is.”

With his first feature-length documentary, Hegge is also aiming to challenge his audience, and hopes to reawaken the punk spirit lying dormant in younger generations.

“We tried to make it kind of inspiring and funny,” says Hegge. “For younger people watching it, I would like it to sort of reinvigorate this idea that it is important to be critical of your surroundings and not just fall into a formula. In this Internet age it’s easy to forget about subculture, and the work different types of people can do because it is all so flatlined.”

She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column will be shown on June 19 at the Hifi Club, where the majority of the Sled Island film screenings will take place. Other screenings will take place at Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association, including the short film showcase and short film competition, both of which feature films by Calgarian artists.

With a diverse selection of challenging, off-beat films, Sled Island’s film programming is sure to please both music and movie fans alike.

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