Promotional image for Reframe Film Festival 2018.

There isn’t much to look forward to in January in Canada. Once the gaiety and good cheer of the holiday period fade away and the Gregorian calendar has marked the passing of a new year, January seems pretty bleak. January is home to Blue Monday, consistently freezing temperatures and the beginning of a long countdown to Spring.

These conditions seem tailor-made to create an atmosphere in which a film festival will thrive. That is exactly what Peterborough’s Reframe Film Festival has done. For 15 years, Peterborians and those willing and able to travel to Peterborough have been given an opportunity to forget the dullness of January by immersing themselves in an alternate reality away from the cold. A weekend filled with documentary films and an opportunity to gather with friends, old and new, seems the prescribed antidote to winter blues.

Downtown Peterborough is the perfect locale to host the festival. With the three venues in such close proximity to each other, downtown shops and restaurants, filmgoers really do not have to venture far once they’ve arrived by foot, pedal or car. The convenience is a big draw for many folx.

I first started attending Reframe six years ago and it has become a tradition for me. I book the weekend off – letting friends know I am only available for breakfast or inviting them to join me in watching films with me. Once the schedule has been released, a generous amount of time is allocated to peruse it, reading each description and watch every trailer. Along the way, the films are ranked by level of interest. Once the process is complete, I create a personalized calendar for the weekend – lunch and fresh air breaks scheduled as well.

Each year, I challenge myself to watch at least two films which are outside my typical interest area. After all, expanding one’s mind and knowledge base is part of the raison d’être of the festival, no? This year was no exception. Lives Well Lived and Blue were those two films for me this year. Screened at Market Hall to a sold-out crowd, Lives Well Lived is a beautiful film filled with messages of survival, determination and perseverance – sometimes in the face of great adversity – from folx seventy and older. Blue was a slower-paced film, but cinematographically stunning, highlighting the effects of our choices on our waters – sea and ocean. Both films encouraged self-reflection, how I interact with others, the world around me and with myself. What sort of legacy does one want to leave behind? What kind of life does one want to live?

Ask the Sexpert> was the welcome cathartic reprieve during the weekend, particularly following the screening of A Cambodian Spring – an exhausting David vs Goliath story. Ask the Sexpert is the story of a 93-year old sex advice columnist, Dr. Watsa of India. It covers the crucial topic of sex education but managing to do so in a light and accessible manner.

Another highlight of the weekend was Dolores – the story of Dolores Huerta. This 98-minute film was worth every minute. Outlining the story of an unsung hero, Dolores Huerta, the film does an excellent job of connecting the work she did with the larger political story which was taking place in the USA and around the world at that time. The film shows the slow progression of activist work, does not romanticize it – highlighting the pain and grief suffered by those close to her. However, it also highlights the titular characters accidental rise into feminism because of her work.

Finally, one would be remiss in not noting the local films included in the festival. Two such films were The Mount and Pushback – highlighting local stories is very important. The inclusion of these locally-made films is a hallmark of Reframe, one which I hope is never lost. Being able to situate oneself within the world is important, especially in a local context, the area in which most of us are able to make the most immediate impact.

This year, I added another layer to my Reframe weekend experience and volunteered my time to the festival. Unbeknownst to me, Reframe is largely put on by a group of volunteers who work for months behind the screen. Weekend volunteering duties range from ushering, selling raffle tickets to counting the number of filmgoers at each film and collecting Reach for Reframe donations. My biggest takeaway from volunteering was the opportunity to meet with and converse with new community members while still being able to watch films. Making the connection with the students, seniors, working professionals and youth who attended was the cherry on top of the weekend.

By the end of the weekend, I admit I can no longer sit still and face a screen. I must spend some active time outdoors to counteract the three days of sitting but also to digest and reflect on the weekend full of learning.