If I were to describe OAFF 2019 in one word, it would be Ambitious.

Ambitious is really what keeps coming to mind when I reflect on the success of this festival and the community that supports it.  As the creator and festival director of the Ottawa Adventure Film Festival, I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished over the past three years and to see it grow is such a rewarding experience.

But let’s back up a bit.  This festival is only 3 years old.  The first year was really more of an experiment after years of planning to see if the market would actually support something of this kind.  So, I introduced a one-day event that would showcase 13 films either submitted or acquired. When that day sold out in a matter of weeks, I added another, which also quickly sold out.  Year one, we had a full weekend at the Mayfair Theatre and it confirmed the prediction: Ottawa was ready for a festival of this kind.

Year two, I naturally decided to grow off the success and double the bookings at the Mayfair Theatre and see if we could sustain that level of a festival. We did it. Again the events sold out.  We also introduced a new style of screening in partnership with the University of Ottawa that permitted much more engagement with the audience, filmmakers, and subjects of the films. This was a big step towards what I feel is the vision I had for a festival experience in Ottawa.

Now at this point, I do want to note that this festival is modelled after festivals I attended as a filmmaker including Banff Mountain Film Festival, VIMFF, and 5Point.  The things to consider about those festivals is that they are in mountain communities and often small tourist towns. Ottawa is neither. We are a major urban centre. But, what we do have is a world of adventure right at our door.

This brings us to year three and this is where Ambitious becomes the theme.  I decided this year that this festival is capable of going to 9 days. In hindsight, it seems insane.  But my thought was if our city can sellout 4 days of a touring festival (Banff) we can easily support a grassroots festival that is our own.

What I didn’t anticipate was just how much work it would be.  I went into the festival thinking we would just mirror what we did in the years leading up to this.  Not the case at all. This year saw the introduction of our kick-off party/screening Full Send Friday, four Mayfair Theatre programs, three University of Ottawa programs with speakers at all of the screenings, multiple community adventures, and the apex of the festival ending with the Best of OAFF.  We had live music at multiple events with Jessica Pearson & the East Wind and Jordan King, a new featured host (David Brennan), incredible speakers and hosts at our other events, live art, lots of popcorn, unreal films from all over the world and a media team covering the whole adventure.

In a nutshell, this festival not just doubled in scale but it more than tripled in overall quality.  I say this with full sincerity. This year was nothing short of awesome. And the best part is, you agree.  Your feedback has been so inspiring and rewarding. To know that we delivered something special for our community is one of the best feelings that one can have.

I also learned a lot this year.  It is tough to go into a third year and top the success of attendance rates that we had in the initial years of this festival.  Especially when we added more than double the screenings.  However, needless to say, I had the bar set extremely high from day one.   I knew that if I delivered (along with the amazing team from Five2Nine) the best possible festival we could it would cement itself in Ottawa culture.   I believe we did that. But we didn’t sell out all the events. While we did over 75% attendance and sold out a number of events my bar was set so high that I used attendance as a measure of success.

Stepping back and thinking about that word again; Ambitious.  Thinking of what we achieved and the amazing community we are part of is a reward in itself.  No longer is attendance a measure of success for the OAFF.  That will come.  I know that every person that attended this year will be back next year.  That much I know. What I also know is that we had a lineup of incredible films that we worked all year to bring to you, the best show we could possibly deliver, and overall, an experience that not only will we match for years to come but make better and better every year.

Ottawa, you are a wonderful community and I couldn’t be more proud to take my energy and be ambitious for you.   As I sit at my laptop typing out these final thoughts about OAFF in the early part of 2020 I look at the paper beside me with the list of to-dos for OAFF 2020 and all the things that the team at Five2Nine is already putting in place to make this year even better and a special time to be in our community.

See you in November!