The Cannes of the Prairies!

Posted on June 24, 2010


Yorkton film festival takes out it's delegates for a lobster feast followed by skeet shooting

When we Brits hear the words ‘film festival’, it is probably Cannes, Edinburgh and Venice that pops into our heads.  We picture the red carpets, big stars and the paparazzi.  One visit to North America’s oldest and wackiest film festival, held in the small Canadian town of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, changed that for me.

Celebrating it’s 63rd year last month, Yorkton Film Festival gave its delegates a unique experience, all with the help of the local community.  Top Canadian broadcasters mingled with local residents, and with delegates who were at varying stages of their career.  The contact gained during the intimate three day event was unrivalled.  This was thanks in part to the festival’s introduction of the perfect bonding experience:  Lobsterfest.   The organisers ferried everyone out to the Yorkton Wildlife Federation Clubhouse to enjoy a Lobster dinner before moving the party on to the shooting range to aim at skeet – a tradition introduced at the 2009 festival, one sure to continue for years to come.

Yorkton film festival delegate Ryan Lockwood takes aim on the skeet range.

The Festival’s incomparable approach to networking, together with Lobsters and shotguns, certainly seemed to work.  It is difficult to forget the film production CEO who teaches you how to eat your lobster correctly, or the student director who is beside you on the skeet range cheering and hugging you each time you get a shot on target (of which I got two and one very large bruise from the kick-back).

Lobsterfest and Yorkton Film Festival have a secret ingredient to keep them a cut above the regular festivals – community.  Whereas most film festivals focus on the industry’s elite, Yorkton is run and attended by the local community.  You feel instantly at home because the 18,000 person city of Yorkton is there with you throughout the festivities.  Driving into town gives the impression that each billboard and every shop window are welcoming delegates and offering the guests true prairie hospitality.

Yorkton film festival delegate Katrina Ham with her shotgun on the skeet range.

Lobsterfest was a perfect example of this link between the community and the industry.  Residents drove some of us delegates out of the city, through the golden Saskatchewan wheat fields before pulling to a stop in…

…the middle of nowhere (which is probably a good thing considering the number of bullets being fired during the evening)  From the outside it appeared that we could have safely pulled up at any rural scout hut or community centre but a short pause before going inside put paid to that theory as the sound of gunfire ricocheted around us.

The empty skeet range awaits delegates from Yorkton Film Festival 2010

And if the gunfire wasn’t enough to get visitors in the mood, the atmospheric clubhouse certainly did the trick, with dull lighting, rows and rows of medals, walls lined with the remnants of various kills: antlers, deer head and even a prize fish.

The interior of the clubhouse

Of course any shooting was to take a back seat to a local prepared feast.  Initially the evening was all about enjoying the lobster – flown in especially from Halifax.  The Yorkton Lions had the task of feeding the masses.  The clubhouse patio hosted an incredible production line, set up to serve everyone swiftly.  The Lions were gracious hosts, lending a little local sparkle to the moment with their matching yellow biker jackets.

The Yorkton Lions cooking area

A member of Yorkton Lions relaxes after all the food has been served during Lobsterfest 2010

Having only previously eaten lobster once or twice, and the last time being in a small home restaurant in Havana, my skills were slightly limited.  Luckily I had Norm Bolen on hand to help me utilise the meal before we all made our way to the skeet range.

Guns have never contained any attraction for me.  In fact I have always tried to avoid them.  At times I have come across them in work assignments, and I generally back off, though I shot a number of arrows for the cause of journalism.  Yorkton created the perfect opportunity to sample gun fire.  As a result I can certainly see what draws people to it: the adrenaline rush that follows a successful shoot, the comradely support of fellow shooters and the on-range banter.  That said, I think I’ll limit my shooting experience to future Yorkton Film Festivals as they certainly sold this photographer on the annual event and hopefully my return year upon year.  In the words of the kind Norm Bolen: “This is so much better than Cannes”

Norm Bolen at Lobsterfest 2010, the best lobster teacher a girl could ask for.