Quinte Film Alternative and Picton Cinefest

By Maury Flunder and Janet Jarrell
See you at the movies!
The Quinte Film Alternative started in September 1995 with a small ad in the Community Press, inviting any interested persons to a meeting at the Quinte Arts Council office to discuss the formation of a film group in Belleville. About a dozen people were at that meeting, and most of them stayed on to serve as the first QFA board of directors.

Cam Haynes was there, along with his brother Blair. They had started the Northern Film Circuit a few years earlier, forming a relationship with the Toronto International Film Festival to supply films, which met with great success. They were proposing a Southern Film Circuit for this part of the province. Belleville became one of the original Film Circuit groups by October. The Film Circuit continues to serve as a lending library working with TIFF and distributors to supply films to the QFA and now 193 community groups like the QFA across Canada.

The first memorable debate was what the debut film should be. There was considerable support for Michael Moore's satirical "Canadian Bacon", but an odd little film, "Blue In The Face" was selected. It was quirky and funny and it certainly wasn't a mainstream blockbuster, which were typically the only movies that were screening in Belleville at that time.

That first screening was in January 1996 at the Bellestar 3 cinema (now the Royal Lepage Headquarters). The seating capacity was 168 and that first night sold out. Screenings over time were changed to the Quinte Mall cinema's, then to the Famous 8 (now Galaxy) then in 2003 to the wonderfully restored Empire Theatre (formerly the McCarthy Theatre) where we were able to add a matinee and where we have been ever since.

The mission was clear from the start; bring films that would not otherwise be screened in Belleville. This led to films that got a lot of buzz at the Toronto Film Festival, many being nominated for Oscars, including edgy films like "Trainspotting", documentaries like "Bowling for Columbine" and Foreign Films like "Life is Beautiful". Large crowds quickly became the norm, which led to selling advance ticket memberships. 

The QFA eventually incorporated as a Non Profit to set up some formal accountability, but the composition of the Board of Directors remains bound by the love for films. Recent recognition by the Quinte Arts Council of the QFA as the Arts Association of the year has been window dressing to what continues to be a labour of love for film lovers on the board. We maintain a list of e-mail subscribers of over 600 who are reminded of the screening every other week, and have members “bring-a-friend nights”.

As for picking the films, this is really more of an art than science, and is also the reason that maintaining interest and cohesion on our volunteer board has been relatively fun and easy. We all love the films and are passionate about bringing the best each year to the Belleville audience.

A year after the QFA got underway, the County began its own showing of artistic alternative films. In 1996, a small and dedicated group started what is known today as Cinefest Picton.  Both groups have a shared commitment to offering independent films for the locals in their area. Joining the Film Circuit, which acts as a “broker with distributors, loaning films to smaller centers for one night screenings” says Peter Blendell, Cinefest Picton chose ‘Big Night’ as its debut film.  

“It really took about five years to establish the following we have today”, says Peter, as the County slowly began to grasp the scope of the alternative films and documentaries being screened. Many local sponsors and community groups began investing in Cinefest Picton ensuring the film screenings continued success. A readership was initiated and maintained through e-mails, which offer a film review of up coming screenings.

Requests for films began to come in and were “bottlenecked” to a programmer, Rita Johnson, who researched the choices and made decisions based on artistic merit. Overtime, the independent film aficionados developed a sense of the artistically demanding films that the group wanted to screen.

The screenings themselves are all held at the historic and beautifully restored Regent Theatre in downtown Picton. It offers its patrons a unique venue for the viewing of these alternative films.  This theatre underwent further renovations in early 2011, briefly relocating the screenings to the second floor space found at Books & Company. With the upgrades complete, the films are back at the Regent where Cinefest Picton presents a bi-weekly program screening on alternate Mondays.

See you at the movies!


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