September 25, 2020

BY WENDY CZAKO-MAH

As dozens of patrons entered Empire Theatre on Oct. 20, they had puzzled looks on their faces. Why were people standing around with cameras? The answer soon became apparent as a white SUV slowly crept up to the front entrance. A door opened and an unfamiliar woman stepped out. She then opened the rear  door and as she stepped back the reason was clear. It was Susan Sarandon.

The actress was in town as part of the Grand River Film Festival (GRFF), which celebrated its sixth year.  Waterloo Region and international filmmakers of short- and full-length films debuted their movies from Oct. 16-21 in several theatres throughout the region.

“The festival has grown not only regionally, but beyond here,” said Jennifer Bedford, who has been involved with GRFF since 2009.

Sarandon was in attendance as a guest of the festival and also to support the film, Robot and Frank, in which she has a role.

“I’m really happy to be somewhere where The Rocky Horror Picture Show is considered a classic¸” Sarandon said.

“I love hockey so I always feel comfortable here, but I’ve never been this far outside of Toronto, even though I’ve worked in Montreal and even Winnipeg,” she said.

She was quick to point out it’s Frank Langella who is the star of Robot and Frank and that she plays a small part in a sweet story that has a surprise ending.

The film, said Sarandon, “was made on no money and it’s done surprisingly well by a first-time director (Jake Schreir). It’s really great that you have a festival because this is where a lot of people get their films seen. When people like it, it makes people want to trust that they’re good and show them (the films) in other places, especially your documentaries.”

Robot and Frank

is a story of a retired man living on his own, who refuses to go into a retirement home. His son, played by James Marsden, brings him a robot-caregiver that is supposed to keep him active, healthy and help stimulate his brain by routine and physical activity.

The festival featured a number of other films including The Entrepreneur, a non-fictional film detailing the journey of Malcolm Bricklin.

Bricklin, an automotive entrepreneur best known for his self-named automobile company, also successfully introduced several foreign cars in large volumes to the American public.

The film is directed by son, Jonathan Bricklin. Both father and son were in Kitchener for the showing, and a number of the Bricklin cars were displayed outside the theatre.

Another film, titled Stories We Tell, by Toronto-born Sarah Polley, was shown. It is Polley’s first feature-length documentary.

According to David Terry, GRFF’s vice-chair and director of marketing, in the future more GRFF-sponsored events will be held between the actual festivals, increasing contact with the community.

“We have to determine exactly what shape, size and flavour they will be, but we do intend to reach out and bring our name and festival into all levels and all parts of the local community,” Terry said.

GRFF board members are especially proud of how much they have accomplished this year as a board.

“Numerous people have contributed to the success of the festival. Our programming committee did an astonishing job of social media, which is a bit over my head at my vintage,” said Terry.

He added there were many factors and many people who made this year one to be most proud of as the festival moves to another level.

“We have a belief that we need to offer a broad range of culturally, socially and entertainment-type movies to our community, and to stimulate the community’s interest in the art of movie-making from all angles. We want to be known and want to contribute to film-making and the presentation of movies in all their forms and flavours.”

The featured screening and best moment, according to Terry, was the screening of Greenwich Village, a feature-length documentary about the music scene that contributed to political, social and cultural changes of a generation.

“The best is for someone like me who can relate to those years and music. It was a part of my life. I will be wallowing in feelings of nostalgia,” Terry said.