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17th Nickel Independent Film Festival

Location: St. John's, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations
Amount Funded: $15,000

The Tour screenshot

The Tour is a short film by Jenina MacGillivray screening on closing night - Saturday, June 24.

Festival Dates: June 17 to 24, 2017
Festival Contact: Ruth Lawrence
Festival Website:
Festival E-mail:

The Nickel Independent Film Festival enters its 17th running this year, and has lots to celebrate. Of course there is the plethora of new films – shorts, features, and documentaries – that will be paraded out over the course of nine different screenings.  But, the festival also has a freshly polished new look and also recently moved from ArtsNL’s Annual Operating Program for Professional Arts Organizations to the Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations, which operates on a three year cycle.

The long running festival is well known for the quality of programming it sets, for the core festival itself as well as in the number of outreach engagement events and tours it runs throughout the year. The festival also has a reputation for nurturing emerging filmmakers in the Newfoundland and Labrador filmmaker community. They strive to program the festival with at least 40% of the content that is locally produced, alongside Canadian and international films in various styles. They also arrange a number of workshops and networking opportunities – both at the festival and over the course of each year.

Some of the activities that take place throughout the year include four different film challenges, a summer road show in August, a school tour (which has also received ArtsNL funding through the School Touring Program in previous years), and special screenings.

Ida Here and There

Ida Here & There is a short film from Melanie Oates screening on Wednesday, June 21.

The work the Nickel conducts through the road show and school tours provide exceptional access to quality thought-provoking film in many rural parts of the province. The 2016 Nickel Festival/Reel Youth High School Film Tour for example brought a 40 minute program of shorts made by filmmakers under 19 to 10 different schools in Port Rexton, Swift Current, Bonavista, Arnold’s Cove, King’s Cove, Lethbridge, Little Heart’s Ease, Grand Bank, Fortune, and Rushoon. The tour also includes introductory filmmaking workshops led by established filmmakers, before students write and shoot a short documentary themselves.

Turning to this year’s festival, there are two highly lauded locally produced feature films in the schedule. Justin Oakey’s Riverhead screens opening night on Tuesday, June 20 – the feature earned two Canadian Screen Award nominations for actors Lawrence Barry and Evan Mercer (Best Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively). The kick-off evening for the festival also includes three shorts: The Special (Grace and Martin Gale), Crocuses (director Wanda Nolan’s 2015 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award winning short), and Hila (Adam Bentley).

Director Justin Simms’ Away From Everywhere, which is based on a novel of the same name by Chad Pelley, plays the following night on Wednesday, June 21 at 9pm - also preceded by three great shorts. Janet Cull’s video for Highway of Tears, directed by Jenn Brown, is a product of the Nickel’s Music Video Incubator project - run in partnership with MusicNL. It will be followed by Ida Here & There from another local director Melanie Caines, and a short film from local musician Rozalind MacPhail called Leave a Note will follow.

The later 9pm screenings for Thursday, June 22 has a horror theme, and includes a short called Sketch, which resulted from the Nickel’s 48 Hour Horror Challenge 2016. Not to be missed, the earlier 7pm lineup that day will show five different shorts before the debut of Kenneth J. Harvey’s film I Heard the Birch Tree Whisper in the Night – a film about renowned visual artist and provincial icon, Gerry Squires.

This year, the LSPU Hall is serving as the hub of all activity related to the Nickel, save for the family movie screening, which takes place on Saturday, June 24 at 1pm in the theatre at The Rooms. The matinee screening is also free, and features a great mix of shorts including Martine Blue’s The Perfect Family, the Nickel 2017 student documentaries, Hula Hoop from the Swinging Belles and more.

Oppositely, the night before on Friday, June 23 at 9pm the shorts screening lineup is called NSFW, or “not safe for work,” because they’re for a 19+ audience. Here you can take in the debut of Burn My Journal by musician Sherry Ryan who worked with director Riley Harnett in the Nickel/MusicNL Music Video Incubator project, as well. Also on screen will be Last Vestiges by director Seth Poulin, which features Newfoundland actor Clint Butler. The resulting effort from the Nickel’s 48 Hour Rom-Com Challenge 2017, Portefeuille is also included in the program of nine shorts.

The grand finale screening, which takes place at 7pm on Saturday, June 24, is also bursting with local talent. It will feature the last of the three incubated music videos – this one from director Christian Davis for Town House’s Hiding, as well as short films by David Feehan, Darcy Fitzpatrick, Andrea Dunne, and Jenina MacGillivray among others.

In our latest feature, we chat with festival director, Ruth Lawrence, to learn more…

Q and A with Ruth Lawrence...

ArtsNL: We covered a lot of the programming above, but can you talk a little more about some of the documentaries?

Ruth: We’re so pleased to have such powerful docs with a local connection this year. Atlantic was written by Angela Antle and co-produced by Wreckhouse Productions (Jill Knox-Gosse and Lynne Wilson) and has won a handful of awards. On the 25th anniversary of the cod moratorium (or anytime) it’s a powerful film that examines the relationship that three countries have with their ocean resources. 

I Heard The Birch Trees Whisper In The Night is Kenneth Harvey’s doc about the last days of the beloved artist Gerald Squires. Gerry opened his heart and home to the filmmaker’s lens in his last days and gave us what may be our most intimate and personal glimpse of this renowned man. The first screening sold out so early that we’ve added an encore on Saturday, June 24 at 2pm.  I’d encourage everyone who knew and loved Gerry, and his work, to see this film.

In terms of short docs with a local connection, Lian Morrison directed a stirring portrait of a cormorant fisherman in China with Flight of the Fisherman.  And Exploring Bell Island is an outsider’s look beneath the tickle.  See both of those as well.

ArtsNL: So, how does the Nickel ultimately select the films it will screen in the festival? What’s the process, how long does it take, how many people are involved, and how many submissions get received?

Ruth: We open our submission process in September and accept films until mid-March.  We have five or six programmers watching as the films arrive but the final decisions begin in early April. It’s arduous, we always get more than we can program and the final decisions are the most difficult.  At our stage of expansion this year, we have 10 screenings (including the encore) and that’s a wonderful place to be right now.


Crocuses is director Wanda Nolan’s 2015 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award winning short screening Tuesday, June 20.

ArtsNL: Why is it important to the Nickel to ensure 40% local content? What does that do for the filmmakers in the province?

Ruth: It’s crucial for our development, as an industry, to see our work on the screens.  The Nickel put in place a local mandate of 40% some time ago but we surpass it most years. This year, 55% of our films are made by artists from NL. That’s 26 films that cover the gamut from feature to short, established to emerging, comedy to horror to doc to music video.

ArtsNL: Can you talk a little more about the workshops or networking sessions in this year’s festival?

Ruth: We really focused this year on giving people what they wanted.  We did a survey early on to see what kinds of sessions were being sought.  If there was a common theme in the responses, we did our best to offer something that spoke to it. The result has been a much higher take-up and if you want to get into a workshop, I’d suggest that people sign up quickly through our website. We limited numbers to give people a more intimate experience, so several have sold out already.  These are hot tickets!

ArtsNL: We touched on some of the activities that the Nickel runs outside the festival; can you generally elaborate on them a little more?

Ruth: Yes, this is a banner year in a way.  With the sustaining funding from ArtsNL and the support of our funders and sponsors, we’ve got ambitious plans. We have a new Quarterly Film Series that we’re launching with Bill Coultas’ new doc, Descendants: The Past is Cast. It will screen in a partnership with the GeoCentre on June 30 at 8pm. There are four films in this series, and the other local film is Kenneth Harvey’s The Drinking Life that will show in the fall.

students filming

Students in Rigolet prepare to film parts of their own documentary as part of an ArtsNL funded School Touring Project.

ArtsNL: Thinking specifically about the connections the Nickel has with schools, what is the experience like in the classrooms? What do students get out of it, and why is it important?

Ruth: Those classrooms hold our next generation of filmmakers. It’s as simple and as important as that to me. When I look at the docs created this year in those seven schools, I realize the importance of having experienced filmmakers walk into the schools in rural Newfoundland and Labrador with a camera and sound gear, set it up with them, and let them tell their stories.  

I’m very proud of the student docs that were produced this April. Brad Gover and I went to schools in Rigolet, and Sheshatshiu. Andrea Dunne and Ben Noah went to schools in South West Arm, King’s Cove, Port Rexton, Random Island, and Catalina. They did incredible work and we can’t wait to show them in our festival.  We have some students coming in to St. John’s for their premiere, and the screening is free at The Rooms on Saturday June 25 at 1pm.  First come basis so get there early!

ArtsNL: What other kinds of partnerships and connections does the Nickel have with other organizations? And, why are these connections and cross-artistic discipline projects important?

Ruth: The Nickel was founded on celebrating all of the arts that are found in the creation of a film. It’s what makes film special, that crossing of disciplines. Over the years, we’ve partnered with the Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival for the Super 8 Challenges, WANL for a Cinepoetry project, Wonderbolt Circus for the Kamataukashuit Festival, and now MusicNL for the Music Video Incubator. The projects that arise from these partnerships have created over 50 shorts. That’s a remarkable body of work, with just as many different artists. We’re also open to new ideas so if there’s any reader who’d like to send a proposal our way, even a starting place for a new challenge or partnership, we’d like to hear from them. We can’t do it all but we can try!

students interviewing

Ruth Lawrence is seen here working with students in Labrador on a School Touring Project student made documentary short film.

ArtsNL: What are some of the truly great achievements the Nickel has made over the years?

Ruth: The fact that it’s still here and flourishing after 17 years. That’s an incredible achievement.

ArtsNL: Why was it important to refresh the Nickel’s branding now, and what does the new brand represent?

Ruth: We’ve spent the last few years rebuilding after a rough hit. Once it was all settled, we felt the need to move on. Our focus had to get back to the community, the filmmakers and those who loved to see the work on the screen. We’ve had a great swell of support over the years, from people and alumni who have built this festival up. 2017 really felt like the year when we could step back up to enjoy the work. The logo designed by Elling Lien captures that movement. He took what I described to him as our vision and transformed it into a modern, fun and simple symbol of where we are now, and where we want to go. The nickel in the logo is moving forward, developing, changing.  I love that you can see a stylized camerahead in there as well.  It acknowledges that wonderful past but takes us to another place.

ArtsNL: There seems to be an important emphasis on accessibility for the Nickel, and a new focus on social media – can you talk a little more about that?

Ruth: It’s important to us that everyone gets to see the films they want to see. All of our screening venues are accessible (LSPU Hall, The Rooms, GeoCentre) and we welcome those who reach out to ensure we are able to accommodate them. We also see our friends with families who find it difficult to afford the cost of a night out as well as babysitting and the rest.  For next years’ festival, we’re offering at least one screening as a “Screen & Sit” where a mainstage program will be offered upstairs while a kids event goes on downstairs with caretakers who will watch your kids while they watch a fun series of shorts. This year, for our Family Matinee on June 24 at 1pm, we sought out some sponsors so that the screening could be presented for free. The Rooms and NL Disposal Systems are helping to make that happen and we couldn’t be happier.

ArtsNL: Can you talk a little more about the road show specifically – how does that work, where does it go, what relationships has it/does it continue to make?

Ruth: One of my favorite times of the year is when the Summer Roadshow hits the highway and the gravel roads to bring some festival films to some of the most beautiful places on the island.  We’ve partnered with Writers at Woody Point, St. Jacques Arts Festival, Brigus Blueberry Festival for many years now and last year we added the Rotary Arts Centre in Corner Brook, the Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Point, and the Beaches Heritage Theatre in Eastport to show films. We hope to return to all of them this year and maybe add a few others. We have a few special treats in mind for those festivals but I’ll come back later to spring those surprises!

Gerry Squires

I Heard The Birch Trees Whisper In The Night is Kenneth Harvey’s doc about the last days of the beloved artist Gerald Squires.

ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations help the Nickel continue to develop and achieve its goals? And, why is the funding important?

Ruth: For every arts organization, stable funding is essential to planning and achieving our benchmarks. One look at this year’s festival (and beyond) and it’s easy to see the impact that the sustaining funding has already. We can make plans for three years and budget accordingly so that the rollout is smooth and more economical, in essence. The next three years have been pretty much laid out but I can also see, based on this year’s growth with a fantastic team of people in place early, that we can exceed the goals we set for ourselves each year.

ArtsNL: How can people take in screenings, get tickets, or become more involved with the Nickel – at festival time, or throughout the year?

Ruth: We have a newly designed website by our 2017 Festival Coordinator Elling Lien that is a one stop shop with links to tickets for screenings, workshops, and the screening series.  We mostly need volunteers at festival and special event time.  Getting in touch by email at is the best way. We’re a small staff and we do it all so that is the surest way of reaching us quickly. Our website  and our social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are also great sources. This year our hashtag is #nickel17 so followers can check out all the action there.

ArtsNL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ruth: A dark room with a flickering light on a screen is good for your eyes, your heart, and your mind.  I encourage film lovers and filmmakers to see the films in this year’s program. Our passes make it more affordable to see multiple films than just one.  Film lovers will see how our industry is expanding, how good our work is becoming here. Filmmakers will see the work of our community alongside others. It’s vital to finessing your own craft, to soak up as many films as possible - local, national and international. See what’s out there, how people are telling their stories, what we’re programming.  Get in the dark!