The largest film festival in the world dedicated exclusively to Canadian film, the Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) has been highlighting some of the country’s best works since 2001. The 2023 edition, which takes place March 2-5, continues that tradition with a sensational lineup of works and events that will satisfy both long-time festival goers and first-time attendees.
Taking place entirely in-person in downtown Kingston, Ontario the festival is packed with over 30 films that range from award-winning gems to local discoveries. Some of the highly buzzed titles include TIFF’s Canada Top Ten selections like Black Ice, Brother, I Like Movies, To Kill a Tiger, Rosie, Viking, and the opening night film Riceboy Sleeps. There are also works such as Den Mother Crimson, the Bicycle Opera Company’s Sweat, and Slaight Music Video Showcase, featuring videos from 11 local production companies and bands, for those craving a more of a local flavour.
On top of the various films playing, the festival also features a slew of events that are worthy of your time. The festival will be hosting a spotlight on filmmaker Mike Downie, which includes a Q&A between Downie and culture writer and podcaster Elamin Abdelmahmoud. Canadian comedian and The Kids in the Hall alum Kevin McDonald will be performing on March 3rd and 4th. There is also a Mix and Mingle event that will give festival goers and filmmakers a chance to connect and network.
To help navigate the sheer wealth of cinema at the festival, here are ten films that festivalgoers should consider putting on their radar at KCFF this year:
Riceboy Sleeps (dir. Anthony Shim) – Opening Night Film
The second feature by Vancouver-based actor and filmmaker Anthony Shim, has been racking up awards on the festival circuit. The poignant drama is both acutely specific to the experience of a Korean immigrant family in the 90s Canadian suburbs, and profoundly universal as a heart-wrenching story of a mother and son whose close bond is threatened by great changes and challenges. The push-and-pull dynamic that exists in any parent-child relationship is exacerbated by the unspoken pains of the characters’ past.
Brother (dir. Clement Virgo)
Adaptating David Chariandy’s award-winning novel, Brother tells the story of two Jamaican Canadian brothers growing up in Scarborough in the early 1990s. Lamar Johnson stars as Michael, a shy teen who reveres his older brother and fiercest protector Francis (Aaron Pierre), a young man whose tough, stoic manner masks his own vulnerabilities. Though their mother Ruth (Marsha Stephanie Blake) tries to shield her boys from the dangers looming outside the family’s apartment, their fates are inevitably affected by the harsh reality that surrounds them. (Read my Brother review)
Den Mother Crimson (dir. Siluck Saysanasy)
The first product of the innovative production company Branded to Film, this thriller builds on an exciting new era for filmmaking in Kingston. Marking the feature directorial debut by Siluck Saysanasy (who some may remember from the original Degrassi Junior High), the film stars Enuka Okuma of the CBC hit Workin’ Moms along with Daniel Kash and Saad Siddiqui. Den Mother Crimson is a twisty tale of three AI experts who are enlisted as consultants on a shadowy project whose ramifications soon become terrifyingly clear. DMC was developed, pre-produced, produced and delivered locally, the first end-to-end production at $1M level from a Kingston-based production company.
Relax, I’m From the Future (dir. Luke Higginson)
A Kiwi performer well-loved for his tenure on the cult comedies Flight of the Conchords and Our Flag Means Death, Rhys Darby is a pure delight as a hapless time traveler in this hilarious feature debut by Toronto’s Luke Higginson. Expanded from Higginson’s equally ingenious 2015 short, Relax, I’m From the Future plays fast and loose with sci-fi tropes with a story of the chaos that ensues when Casper (Darby) arrives in the present day in the hopes of preventing a future catastrophe. Casper’s new friend Holly (Gabrielle Graham) is more interested in the riches that his knowledge can earn them. (Read my Relax, I’m From the Future review)
I Like Movies (dir. Chandler Levack)
Anyone with fond memories of evenings spent wandering the aisles of their favourite video-rental store will find much to love about this sharp comedy by Toronto’s Chandler Levack. Isaiah Lehtinen stars as Lawrence, a prickly, film-obsessed 17-year-old in early-2000s suburban Ontario who takes a step toward adulthood when he gets a job at a local video emporium in one of the year’s most acclaimed first features. As Lawrence tries to navigate his increasingly complicated relationships with his friends, co-workers and long-suffering mother, he often proves to be his own worst enemy, leading to situations for which the teen is ill-prepared in spite of his seemingly limitless supply of opinions on all things cinema.
Black Ice (dir. Hubert Davis)
Earning the People’s Choice Award for best documentary at TIFF and a selection in Canada’s Top Ten, this latest film by Oscar-nominated director Hubert Davis is a vital and timely examination of anti-Black racism in hockey. While showcasing the frank accounts of stars like P.K. Subban, Sarah Nurse and Wayne Simmonds, Davis’ film reveals the history of systemic marginalization within the sport as well as the under-acknowledged innovations and achievements of Black players. (Read my Black Ice review)
Canadian Shorts: Beyond
Honestly, all of the short film programs playing should be on your radar. This program distinguishes itself by showcasing the latest extraordinary Canadian cinematic experiments. Its primary goal is to provide a space to cherish bold practices that go beyond the conventional in both form and narrative to transcend the expectations of audiences. Entitled Beyond, this program features nine shorts that engage innovatively and courageously with immediate causes, such as the consequences of economic stress, the challenges of mental illness, and women’s rights in Iran.
The End of Sex (dir. Sean Garrity)
There’s no overlooking the fact that things have gotten a little stale for married couple Josh and Emma. Their efforts to spice things up while their kids are away on a winter break led to complications and calamities that neither could have possibly anticipated. Reuniting with Jonas Chernick and Emily Hampshire – his two collaborators on their hit My Awkward Sexual Adventure (KCFF’13) – Festival regular Sean Garrity delivers another high-spirited, crowd-pleasing farce that’s as unenthusiastically risqué as it is surprisingly sweet. (Read my The End of Sex review)
Bones of Crows (dir. Marie Clements)
Led by Métis/Dene playwright, performer and filmmaker Marie Clements, this epic-scale drama uses the decades-long saga of a Cree woman, Aline Spears (Grace Dove), and her family as a means to portray and explore the harrowing history and impact of Canada’s residential school system. Aline’s early days of happiness as a child are soon followed by a series of tragedies and challenges.
The Colour of Ink (dir. Brian D. Johnson)
Many of us may not give much thought to what we press into paper when we are writing or drawing, but the history of ink is closely intertwined with the wider history of humankind, as made abundantly clear by this fascinating documentary. The Colour of Ink combines a rich portrait of Jason Logan – a visionary inkmaker and illustrator with roots in the Kingston area — with interviews of artists and inkmakers worldwide. As you might expect, writers like Margaret Atwood have their own take on the topic, too. (Read my The Colour of Ink review)