Exclusive – Tammy Bannister Breaks Down the R2R Film Festival

If you’ve never been to a film festival before it may be that you are not very aware of their arrival. They tend fly under the radar but are a magnet for film enthusiasts, filmmakers and people that adore creative things. They’re always intimate and very insightful. The filmmakers are usually present to answer questions from the audience and many of the films have multilayered messages imbedded.    


One such film festival that I’d like to brag about is the Real 2 Reel Film Festival. I was given the 411 by Tammy Bannister, the festivals amazing Program Director. She was very generous in taking the time to chat with us on three occasions over the span of the festival.


“There are many film festivals with various agendas and targeted audiences. What makes R2R different from the others?”

“Most of the films we accept come from a youth perspective.  Our target audience is families and youth. The films showcasing at the festival are age appropriate and made by professional filmmakers as well as new filmmakers.”


“How many submissions do you receive and from where?”

“This year we received approximately 1000 short and feature films from all over the world. I also scout other films that I feel might be interesting for the festival. I watch an additional few hundred films. We start receiving submissions for the following year as soon as each festival ends. There weren’t a lot of Canadian feature films this year targeted toward youth but we did receive between 30-40 films Internationally.”


This is the R2R’s 20th anniversary and it ran from April 8-14th.


“How long have you been Program Director for the festival and what keeps you involved?”

“This is my second year as Program Director but I began as the Assistant to the Executive Director before moving up to Producer and then Director. It’s a wonderful job to have with a great environment of young inspiring people. I also get to work within youth culture to make decisions I wish were made for me when I was young.”


In comparison, Tammy also works for the Vancouver International Film Festival where the International program team of 20-30 collectively watches thousands of more films. That’s a viewing gauntlet in comparison to this youth festival. Although Canadian feature film submissions have been scarce, there’s been approx. 30 Canadian short films with youth themes submitted this year. In addition to having a great cross section of International films, they also have a ‘Made in Canada Short Film’ program that is held annually. If there is enough content, they also have a Made in BC program.  There is also an Indigenous spotlight that includes a lot of Canadian Indigenous work, as well as International Indigenous work. The content is tremendous in its diversity.


“Considering this festival is geared toward youth, what types of films can we expect to see?”

“You’ll see a mix of animation, live action, drama, comedies, themes of loneliness to suicide, healthcare and isolation, as well as problems teens face, such as drinking and driving and the minimum wage gap in BC. In addition, there are also five Virtual Reality films available for viewing. One of the VR films available is Tidal Traces. The creative team of Emmalena Fredriksson and Nancy Lee were in attendance. Another VR film on display is the Blue: Whale Experience. It submerges you underwater where you’ll encounter everything that exists under the surface.  The apex of the experience is when an 80-foot whale swims toward you within arms reach. It is one of the best made to scale VR films ever made. It has premiered at Sundance. Everyone from young students to seniors has seen it and have all found it astounding. It was paired along with the BBC Earth documentary, which provides an evening of appreciation for the natural world. It was an amazing experience overall. We deliberately try to find films that are not normally available to youth and not necessarily mainstream films but rather the ones that also speak the language of cinema that might be a little more sophisticated than what’s normally offered in the mainstream for young people.”


HTC Vive is one of the front-runners of the technology being used for VR. They’ve created the hardware that the artists learn on and work with. They supported the VR domain this year with computers and headsets along with other gear, which allowed attendees to view multiple formats. Tammy admits to being quite an evangelist when it comes to VR, having had the opportunity to view it in Venice and the Annecy Film Festival in France, which is basically the Cannes of animation and quite remarkable. China and Japan currently have an edge over Europe and the rest of the world. Tammy informs me that the technology is excelling so fast it has made leaps and bounds compared to just six months ago.

“Do you also have guest speakers in attendance?”

“We do. We have a lot of guests usually available through Skype. Last year we had many more Canadian films, resulting in more guests attending the festival. This year, the feature documentary Earth, One Amazing Day produced by the BBC will be spotlighted. The director, Richard Dale will be available via Skype, all the way from the UK following the two screenings during the festival.  He provides so much insight about his process. It’s written as a drama even though it’s a documentary with animals as the stars being filmed in the wild. It’s the story of how the earth wakes up and goes to sleep everyday, told through the perspective of animals in their natural habitat. There is extraordinary footage never seen before, such as giraffes fighting and throwing their necks at each other or catching sperm whales sleeping vertically. It took 5 years to capture all the footage.”


“What type of award categories can we expect on closing night?”

“One competition we’ve continued for the last 10 years is for young filmmakers 18 and under and from grades 5–12. The juror’s are local filmmakers, Kryshan Randel, Milena Salazar, Anaïsa Visser.  For our regular program, we have 3 juries. One is the junior youth jury between the ages of 9-13. The other is the senior youth jury with ages 14-18. We also have an adult jury. Each youth jury watches all of the short films and award prizes in two categories each. They also award the best feature film in their age group.  The adult jury deliberates on all feature films and also awards the Edith Lando Peace prize for film that best utilizes the power to further the goals of peace and justice. It comes with a cash prize of $500.00 CAD. Edith Lando is very well known for her philanthropy work. She has spent most of her life donating to causes that effect young people. Although she is now deceased, her family has carried on her foundations legacy.  The foundation sponsors scholarships for school groups that are unable to afford to attend the festival as well as school trips. A couple films that are contenders for the award are, Princess Cyd. It’s the story of a young girl coming to terms with her identity and the dynamics around gender non-conforming people and the relationships between young women. Another film called Speak Up is a documentary that deals with the subject of young people learning the art of rhetoric, speaking in public, being able to influence an audience and gain affluence through oration. The idea of youth led movements are discussed, which are very relevant in today’s age where youth are seeking out a platform to have their voices heard.”


Tammy Bannister is very invested in her work and also involved with a youth media conference geared toward high schools that includes a presentation, The Power of Speech. It’s designed to empower youth to use their voice to be involved in conversations they’re normally shut out of.  They also have a career fair in which many of the Visual Effects, animation and sound design companies are invited out to help foster interest in the local film industry for new young artists. They provide the opportunity for schools and companies to connect with the young people and offer them the information from the ground floor. There are approx. 30 companies that attend the career fair. Amazing!


“We really focus on bringing new voices to the scene as well as getting youth interested in things that wouldn’t necessarily be at their fingertips.”


“Do you receive any sponsorship or funding from outside sources?”

“Yes, we are project based funded. This year the biggest difference we have, is more support from some of the consulates. We are completely non profit and don’t have year round operational funding like most festivals do. This year we’ve been able to improve our income bottom line through ticket sales as well as a program called Business for the Arts, which we’ve been participating in. It matches all new sponsorship we’ve been able to acquire.  In addition we also have a lot of project based government support.”


This festival is so unique in the audience it targets. It stands alone amongst other festivals in its content and the way it addresses youth and their concerns throughout the festival.


“Where are the venues located for this years R2R Festival?

“Vancity Theatre for most of the feature presentations and the Roundhouse Center which we fill twice daily with a crowd of approx. 250. Half of the kids will take part in workshops while the other half will participate in the short film program. After a lunch break they will switch. We run about seven or eight workshops throughout the week.”


Tammy informed me of the amazing attendance records this year. Compared to last year, it has doubled.


“Considering the impact this festival has had on youth, have you received any film submissions from participants that have continued to pursue film?”

“Yes we have. Some youth filmmakers have gone onto pursue filmmaking as a career. This year we’ve screened films presented from graduates of Emily Carr that were previous attendees of the R2R festival. It’s a very powerful experience knowing that myself, along with other programmers have mentored individuals to grow into an artist better able to express themselves safely and confidently. They’re encouraged to tell their stories and that’s why we do it.”

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