Forget Hollywood. Local films offer refreshing perspectives.

Founded in 1950, The Yorkton Film Festival was Canada’s first film festival. Every May, film professionals from across Canada attend.

The Yorkton Film Festival is the longest-running continuous film festival in North America.

Founded in 1950, it was Canada’s first film festival. Every May, film and television professionals from across Canada come to Yorkton, which is close(ish) to the Manitoba border. It’s about 80 km west of Roblin, MB.

A crazy idea – how the Yorkton Film Festival began

In 1947, the Yorkton Film Council started as a volunteer distribution agency for the National Film Board (NFB). Back then, an employee of the NFB, Jim Lysyshyn, had what seemed like a crazy idea for a small city with only 8,000 people. Lysyshyn suggested a film festival. The Council was only keen once Lysyshyn suggested it be an international one.

The first festival became a reality three years later.

Local, independent, in-depth.

Our Prairie stories.

Thousands of people attended the screenings, and the festival was a must-attend event throughout the 1950s. 

The rise of television

But things changed in the 1960s with the rise of television.

Attendance dropped, and the Council was ready to throw in the towel. But then, a group of dedicated leaders stepped up to breathe new life into the festival.

They threw after-theatre parties, hosted workshops for students and filmmakers, focused on Canadian films, hired paid staff, re-designed the Golden Sheaf, the award given out to films today, and used highly qualified adjudicators.

These changes set the stage for the festival’s future success.

The Golden Sheaf Awards became a way to celebrate successes, the workshops proved invaluable, and the festival became a place for networking and making meaningful connections for film and television professionals.

The lasting legacy

In the 1980s, the festival played a role in forming the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association. And the event helped establish the Saskatchewan Council of Cultural Organizations, now known as SaskCulture. 

The festival is still strong today, promoting the best screen-based media content in Canada.

A festival unlike anything else

If it’s someone’s first time at the Yorkton Film Festival and their first time in Saskatchewan, they are surprised by how laid back and unpretentious the event is, unlike more significant film industry events. They are also amazed by how friendly and approachable Saskatchewanians are. (The Gimli Film Festival in Manitoba is also pretty great. If I can, I’ll try to get there this summer too).

The pinnacle event at the Yorkton Film Festival is Lobsterfest at the Yorkton Wildlife Federation Clubhouse on York Lake. People don plastic bibs, eat lobster and try their hand at trap shooting.

I love the event because no one expects to come to Saskatchewan for a lobster feast with the chance to fire a gun. It’s a unique dinner that everyone should try to get to once, even if you don’t go to the whole festival.

I also love the Yorkton Film Festival because it’s held at the Galagher Centre, which is a multiplex that has a community pool, and a curling rink, so while the film festival is going on, there are people coming in for swimming lessons and such, which keeps the event rooted in the community. Other Canadian film events are held at more fancy venues like the Banff Springs Hotel, a hub for wealthy tourists, away from the rest of the town. But I’m a fan of low-key. 

As long as I’ve attended the festival, the award gala has included a Ukrainian feast–-perogies, borscht, ham, and cabbage rolls. And during the awards, out-of-province tv producers from Toronto and Vancouver talk about their surprise at how great Yorkton is, and the people from Saskatchewan are like, we know.

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Better than the Oscars

This year’s best compliment of the festival came from two Calgary animators, whose film The Flying Sailor was up for an Oscar in March. They said they preferred the experience of the Yorkton Film Festival over the Acadamy Awards. The Yorkton Film Festival should incorporate this into its advertising. Come to the Yorkton Film Festival. It’s better than the Oscars.

Watching the best TV and films from Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Some people watch all the Oscar nominees each year, but I’m interested in the film and television scene locally.

If you are interested in watching the Saskatchewan and Manitoba films that were shortlisted for the Golden Sheaf Awards at the Yorkton Film Festival this year, I have created a list of links to the films you can watch below.

These nominees include short films, television series, music videos, documentaries and experimental films.

Why it’s important to watch local  

In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we are inundated with TV and films from the U.S.

Any Canadian content is usually a story based in Vancouver or Toronto. Disney’s relatively recent movie, Turning Red, for instance, took place in Toronto. 

And if we do watch a movie filmed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they are filling in for other destinations, like Just Friends, starring Ryan Reynolds, which was filmed in Regina and Moose Jaw, filling in for New Jersey. 

Recently, Canada passed Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act, which will create a framework to regulate digital streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify and require them to contribute to creating and promoting Canadian content. 

The CRTC is still hammering out the details, but if the bill works as intended, as TV viewers, we should be able to find Canadian content more easily. 

What underscores the new bill is a desire to grow Canada’s cultural industries and uphold national identity. (Creating a sense of national identity was also why the CBC was created in 1932). 

Seeing characters and stories that reflect our own experiences helps us feel seen, heard and acknowledged.

It can foster a sense of belonging, especially for individuals from marginalized or underrepresented communities.

It’s like, “Hey, we exist, and our story is worth telling.” That kind of validation can do wonders for a local region’s morale.

Think Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans or the “I Am Canadian” rant, a commercial for Molson Candian from 2000. 

Locally, this year’s Yorkton Film Festival celebrated a lot of Indigenous content. One show I’m interested in watching is available on YouTube: Amanisowin, a fictional web series about a paranormal investigation on Peepeekisis First Nation, a community about an hour’s drive northeast of Regina. 

I will also binge the Paramedics: Emergency Response about EMTs in Saskatoon. Some seasons take place during the pandemic, creating an extra element of interest.

You can watch the series on the Citytv Saskatchewan website. 

Some of the films by Winnipeg filmmakers honoured at Yorkton that I want to watch are Wrought, an experimental timelapse film about how microbes spoil and enrich our food.

I also want to check out I Hurt Myself, about a young photographer overcoming her issues around self-harm, which is available on YouTube and CBC Gem.

The entries in the Yorkton Film Festival made clear that the National Film Board and CBC fund a lot of local content. All of it can be watched on their respective websites. The NFB has an app, and the CBC has Gem, which is available not only on one’s smartphone or tablet but also on FireTV, AppleTV, Roku and AndroidTV. 

APTN also has a lot of Prairie content that can be watched on demand through its Lumi app.

Citytv Saskatchewan also has a lot of local documentary programming, and Bell tv1 in Manitoba has documentaries on demand about local history and culture. Both channels are worth checking out. 

Local television showcases our unique experiences and spotlights our landmarks here at home. And when our stories air nationally, it challenges people’s misconceptions about the Canadian Prairies.

Many TV shows and films in this year’s Yorkton Film Festival were from the usual places, like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. But Saskatchewan and Manitoba also held their own.

Below is a list of the locally produced films and TV shows that did well against the big city content.

If you want to have a bit of the Yorkton Film Festival experience from home, you can stream some of the titles in the comfort of your living room. 

Full-length films available online: 

Full-length series available online: 

  • Amanisowin – Regina/Peepeekisis First Nations
    • Category: Scripted
    • Amanisowin, a Saulteaux word meaning “a haunting” or “haunted.” is a series that will follow the BIA (Bureau for Indigenous Anomalies) as they investigate paranormal stories and occurrences in First Nations Communities. Season 1 takes our team to investigate the Peepeekisis First Nations to determine whether family stories are true or just stories.
    • Director: Peter Brass
    • Producer: M’Shell Brass, Peter Brass
  • Paramedics: Emergency Response – Regina
    • Category: Documentary Series
    • Paramedics: Emergency Response is an intense, fast-paced observational documentary series following several diverse and dedicated teams of paramedics from Saskatoon’s Medavie Health Services West as they respond to calls ranging from minor mishaps to life-threatening emergencies.
    • Read: Reality TV series about Saskatoon paramedics launching a new season
    • Director: Antonio Hrynchuk
    • Producers: Antonio Hrynchuk, Ryan Malone, Karen Parhar
    • Production Company: Fahrenheit Films
  • Resting Potential – Regina
  • Staying Wild – Saskatoon/Swift Current
  • Stories from the North – Saskatoon
    • Category: Children’s/Youth Productions
    • A Mooshum teaches his granddaughters Cree words through traditional stories, merging education with Indigenous language development interactively and authentically.
    • Director: Betty Ann Adam
    • Producers: Kyle Burgess, Allia Janzen, Lee Crowchild, Harmony Johnson
    • Production Company: Campfire Stories
  • Why am I?  – Regina
    • Category: Children’s/Youth Productions
    • “Why?” is a question every child asks as they explore the fascinating new world around them. Animals are always asking the why question too. Why am I bouncy? Why am I green? Why am I so tall? Why do I have feathers? And who do these curious critters turn to for answers? Lily the Bison and Otis the Otter: The Animal Explorers. These two sleuths love solving mysteries of the animal kingdom and making new friends along the way.
    • Read New Sask.-made kids’ cartoon aims to answer the age-old question, ‘Why?’
    • Director: Adrian Dean
    • Producers: Dawn Bird, Adrian Dean
    • Production Company: Why Am I Season 4 Productions Inc.

Full-length series available on APTN Lumi:

  • Going Native – Winnipeg/Toronto
    • Category: Documentary Series
    • Inspired by 50 years of living on reserve, travelling the world and navigating post-colonial Toronto, celebrated humourist and author Drew Hayden Taylor takes a unique look at Indigenous identity in each episode of Going Native.
    • Read Drew Hayden Taylor’s new TV series ‘Going Native’ which is just what this pandemic needs
    • Directors: Sam Karney, Andrew Wiens, Paul Kemp, Kurt Spenrath
    • Producers: Sam Karney, Paul Kemp, Andrew Wiens, Kurt Spenrath
    • Production Company: Ice River Films & Paul Kemp Productions

Film available on Bell tv1 in Manitoba:

  • Gardening in the Heart – Winnipeg
    • Category: Community Television Productions
    • Manitoba’s climate is challenging, but intrepid gardeners persist. A flower gardener dyes fabric, refugees bring new skills, bugs are welcomed, new trees are grafted, and fruit growing is explained.
    • Director/Producer: Elise Swerhone
    • Production Company: Queen Anne Pictures Inc.

Film available on Crave

  • Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On – Winnipeg/Toronto
    • Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On is a joyous, challenging account of this cultural and musical icon’s lifelong commitment to music and sharing the truth. Buffy shares her own story, from her early love of music to the activism she continues today, despite her career being suppressed because of it. Additional interviews include Alanis Obomsawin, Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson and many others whose lives Buffy has touched.
    • Director: Madison Thomas
    • Producers: Lisa Meeches, Stephen Paniccia
    • Production Company: Paquin Entertainment Agency, Eagle Vision, White Pine Pictures

Trailers only:

  • 8 Rooms – Winnipeg
    • Category: Animation
    • In this short, animated film that explores the mysterious nature of dreams, a woman and her sidekick cat move from one strange room to another in pursuit of an elusive floating pushpin.
    • Director/Producer: Anita Louise Lebeau
  • Children of War – Regina
    • Category: Documentary POV (Point of View)
    • Children of War takes viewers into a rarely-seen world. Through their words and lyrics, we gain a unique perspective on what it’s like to be a child refugee.
    • Director(s): Christopher Triffo, Colin McNeil
    • Producer(s): Christopher Triffo, Steve Allen, Ali Kharsa, Beth Smilliea, Jeff Stecyk
    • Production Company: Wavelength Entertainment Group Inc.
  • Fable Deaf – Regina
  • Five True Friends – Winnipeg
    • Category: Scripted
    • Friendship comes in many forms. Anna’s life has been all about frilly dresses and dolls. Growing up in wealth, Anna’s parents made sure she wanted for nothing. She had everything a little girl could want, and she was loved. Finding out that Anna would never be the same again after a tragic accident was hard news to hear. 
    • Read: Manitoba-made short film to premiere
    • Read: Film about friendship moving forward
    • Director(s): George Orallo, Leona Krahn
    • Producer(s): Karen Tusa      
  • lii bufloo aen loo kishkishiw – Regina
    • Categories: Indigenous Award, Experimental
    • lii bufloo aen loo kishkishiw (buffalo wolf memory) honours the memory of the “buffalo wolves,” also known as the “prairie wolves,” who at one time thrived in the North American grasslands. Wolfers hunted the wolves to extinction by the turn of the 20th century.
    • Director/Producer: Dianne Ouellette
  • Len & His Spitfire – Regina
    • Categories: Ruth Shaw Award for Best of Saskatchewan
    • As a young child of the 1920s, Len sustained severe injuries from a dynamite blast cap. Despite his disability, he enlisted in the fight against the Germans in World War II. Adventures and near-deaths ensue after he finds himself in the cockpit of a Spitfire.
    • Director/Producer: Noelle Duddridge
  • Plume, Mike Rollo – Regina
    • Category: Experimental
    • Fingers pluck fallen evidence of flight; placed and traced to make avian light.
    • Director/Producer: Mike Rollo
  • Spindrift – The Barry Blanchard Story – Winnipeg
  • Typecastress – Saskatoon
  • Category: Performing Arts & Entertainment
  • Nora navigates the challenges one faces as a female actor in this inspirational musical with a powerhouse all-female cast.

Not available online: 

  • A Stumble Cry Perhaps – Winnipeg
    • Category: Experimental
    • Alone in the woods, a woman explores the parts of her she’s left behind.
    • Director: John Barnard
    • Producer: Gina Macri

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Statue of Queen Elizabeth repaired and reinstalled, two years after vandalism
  2. Fort Gibraltar events on hold until engineer issues report 
  3. Committee reclassifies status of secretive wildlife species
  4. Manitoba to pass new laws before heading into election
  5. Shilo cadet instructor finds purpose in teaching wilderness skills

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. Musical Ride steeped in tradition as RCMP turns 150
  2. Sask Polytech receives funding for wild rice development projects
  3. Saskatchewan entrepreneur says government thwarted his ag-plastics recycling business
  4. Made-in-Saskatchewan satellite heading to orbit on SpaceX rocket 
  5. Saskatchewan landowners fight against illegal drainage washing out land, roads

Our Prairie stories matter too.

The Flatlander takes a closer look at the stories that unite us, and make us unique, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.


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