This is a big film week in Waterloo Region. It’s the 10th anniversary of the Grand River Film Festival (GRFF), which runs October 24-29. Cambridge arts and culture champion Tamara Louks is at the helm, looking to bring bold, reflective and inspiring films to Waterloo Region.
Tamara is the executive director of GRFF, and is up to her eyeballs in all things festival this week. Her and the 80+ volunteers, who provide more than 1,000 hours to help plan, market and execute the festival’s programs.
This once small and now impressive, region-wide film festival includes a short film competition, educational outreach program, and industry-day panels in addition to local, Canadian and international film screenings.
A festival of this size and scope requires almost a year of planning, where volunteers are reviewing submitted films, checking out other festival programs, watching local productions and looking for films that address hot topics or issues that are important to our community. “It’s a laborious process as often times the films we’ve selected to screen become unavailable,” she says. “They may have hit theatres before our festival dates, have a select festival market or may go straight to video-on-demand.”
But the work pays off when they can deliver an amazing festival lineup. And key to the festival is the inclusion of Canadian films.
“Canadian films reflect our culture, our places and our people,” says Tamara. “And equally important, it’s our industry. We talk about eating and shopping local, and film is no different.” The film industry is tough and it can take years to make a film and get it in front of an audience. Tamara loves that GRFF gets to help connect people to the power of film, highlighting the incredible filmmaking talent in Canada.
As a life-long film fan, Tamara says Disney films were her favourite as a kid, and she moved on to pop-culture classics such Star Wars, Grease and Breakfast Club. At university, her interests turned to Canadian and international films and documentaries. So spending nine years involved with GRFF makes sense. “Film has the ability to immerse you in the story and feel something: to echo someone’s happiness, to cry with someone’s pain or be saddened by hatred,” she says. Watching a film in a theatre with others creates a shared experience that can’t be replicated in your living room.
In a non-festival week, Tamara runs her own business, called dab: Developing Arts & Business, where she focuses on project management, community engagement and building partnerships for the arts and culture sector. She currently coordinates the publicity for the Idea Exchange in Cambridge. “This organization is so forward thinking and enthusiastic about all they do,” she says. “It’s a great team of professionals who are constantly pushing the boundaries to deliver amazing programs, events and services for the community.”
For Tamara, art, film, music, theatre, books, architecture and design is what gets her out of bed every morning. “We all need the basics to live: housing, employment, clean water, safe streets, but the inclusion of arts is what makes a community special; it’s where you want to stay,” she says.
P.S. Tamara’s favourite topic of conversation: asking What’s new? What’s happening?
P.P.S. You can find me at GRFF’s showing of Bruce McDonald’s Weirdos this Saturday.