Saint Andrews Film Society offers rare cinematic gems

During Black History Month, the society will screen a recent work from acclaimed director Clement Virgo. (Motion Picture Association)

SAINT ANDREWS — Lee Ann Ward and Larry Lack started the Saint Andrews Film Society in 2004 as a way of showing Canadian and foreign films to local audiences.

“These two people had a love of film and wanted to give an opportunity for people to watch films in Saint Andrews,” said coordinator Vic Thiessen. “It was an attempt to show films that wouldn’t even be shown elsewhere in New Brunswick … Independent films that those who selected the films knew were of high quality and should be accessible.”

Thiessen took over the role in April 2023 when the society resumed screenings following the COVID-19 lockdowns. That screening attracted 95 people, he recalled.

Currently, the society has 12 volunteers, a five-member board that meets annually, plus a film selection committee that meets four times a year to choose six films that will screen twice a month over three months, said Thiessen, who noted that the society has greeters, projectionists and publicists.

“We try to find award winning films often, very highly critically acclaimed films that are being missed simply because they’re too obscure,” he said. “The film selection committee is also very careful to try to find films that will be not too obscure or too limited in the kind of audience that might appreciate them.”

Thiessen said they get an average of 40 people per screening, which take place year-round at the WC O’Neill Arena Theatre.

“There’s always a few from St. Stephen and from St. George, and the surrounding area but I would say high percentage come from Saint Andrews,” he said.

On Jan. 14, the society hosted the 2003 Canadian film One Summer, a French-Canadian comedy-drama about a parish priest (Patrice Robitaille) in Montreal who takes a group of homeless people on a summer retreat in eastern Quebec. Directed by Louise Archambault, the movie is described by the society as a beautiful, humanizing film about community and relationships.

“Outside of Quebec, her films just get very little airtime despite the fact that they’re often very, very good,” said Thiessen. “It was probably the most popular film we’ve shown since we started last April.”

During Black History Month in February, Thiessen said the society is screening two films “that celebrate the Black experience.”

One of those is a Canadian film set in the 1980s about two siblings in Scarborough, Ont., called Brother, which was released in 2022 and directed by Clement Virgo, said Thiessen.

He said that movie will show on Feb. 11.

“It shows what it was like growing up in a part of Toronto that was known for gang violence and a lot of police activity. These two brothers are caught up in that. It’s a Canadian film that’s been highly acclaimed in film festivals and it got big awards,” he explained. “No one’s even heard of it outside of Ontario, I think, let alone had a chance to watch it.”

On Feb. 25, the society will screen the 2021 documentary Summer of Soul, directed by Questlove, said Thiessen.

“We try to show a documentary every three months, and sometimes two, because those are films that are very popular in Saint Andrews and don’t get a lot of airplay,” he said. “It’s a documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival so it’s very much a music documentary, a lot of mostly music.”

On March 10, Thiessen said the society will show the 2004 movie Sideways, which was directed by award-winning director Alexander Payne (who helmed the 2023 movie The Holdovers) and stars Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Canadian actor Sandra Oh.

The 2020 Canadian film Beans, from Mohawk director Tracey Deer, will screen on March 24, said Thiessen.

“We try to offer Indigenous films at least once every season,” he said. “It’s about the Oka crisis in 1990… and it’s based on the experiences of the filmmaker. It’s a very authentic and very well made.”

Thiessen said it’s important to share the perspective of marginalized communities.

“Saint Andrews has a real passion for films that deal with social justice issues, for example, whether they’re documentaries or regular feature films,” he said. “Those are the kind of films that draw large crowds.”

The society is also in discussion with CC Archives about an upcoming series of historic home movies to show on Sunday afternoons, said Thiessen.

“It may start up next month that we’ll offer an opportunity to see home short films prior to our main feature,” he said. “From way back in the early 1960s, the early days of home movies. Just short home movies about life in Saint Andrews.”

Jake Boudrot

A graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and a resident of Arichat, Jake Boudrot is an award-winning journalist with decades of experience as a freelancer, reporter and editor representing media outlets across the Maritimes.