Usually a film festival is a celebration of just that: film. However, it would be easy to argue the Mosaic Film Festival of Arts and Culture is more a celebration of the filmmakers than it is of the films they make.
This distinction, albeit a fine one, is nonetheless an important one. It perhaps explains how the festival has grown and thrived even during a global pandemic.
“We celebrate the filmmakers as storytellers,” says Israel Ekanem, programming coordinator for the Mosaic Film Festival of Arts and Culture. “They’re front and centre at the festival. Chosen films include little introductions of the makers, giving them an opportunity to tell why they made this film. Why it’s important to them to tell this story.”
It’s an element Ekanem identified as missing from other existing film festivals when he made his first pitch for the creation of the Mosaic Film Festival. It was something that caught the attention and interest of Ifeanyi Emesih.
“When I met Israel, he came with a list of ideas to pitch to me and the film festival was one of them,” says Emesih, founder and CEO of My East Coast Experience. “I recall telling him this is a great idea and we want it, but it was not the right time. I believe so much in timing. After a few months I called him and said I was ready to launch the film festival. We put a team together and the rest is history.”
The event has grown since then to become an international festival with submissions from more than 13 countries. In 2020, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it doubled its submissions. The 2021 edition is already on pace to create a new record.
Ekanem says he contributes the rapid gains to that unique focus he identified in the first pitch.
“People resonated with what we set out to do in our first year,” Ekanem says. “What works for us is word of mouth. If makers have a good experience at our festival, they’re going to tell their friends, colleagues, and other makers.”
Having the pandemic arise was also a blessing in disguise for the festival. Instead of shutting it down, it actually spurred new growth. Ekanem says having to go online opened the festival up to more people around the world.
“Our first year was all about celebrating the filmmakers of the east coast of Canada, but going online made it easy for anyone anywhere to experience the festival,” Ekanem says. “The opening and closing ceremonies were both online and then visitors had all weekend to access and view all 30 submissions. It was also interactive, so viewers could give films a rating and those were used in determining the audience favourite award.”
So what can participants and attendees expect from the 2021 version of the film festival? Submissions for this year have already surpassed last year’s numbers and still have until September before the deadline. Negotiations are underway with local theatres to put some of the submissions up on the big screen. The festival is bringing producers and production companies so makers can be in the same room with them to talk about their films. Makers don’t even have to submit a completed film. Screenplays are also being accepted.
Ekanem says, “Hopefully we’ll then see the completed film return for a future festival.”
The third festival is a melding of the first two. The hybrid will keep the wide open access of the digital-only event, while bringing back the intimate qualities of the first year with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.