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Films, Wine & Fine Dining at Niagara Integrated Film Festival

Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard in "Cold in July"

For years, Bill Marshall has been saying that he’d like to start another film festival. After all, the last one he helped found turned out pretty well. You may have heard of it: the Toronto International Film Festival.

Casting about for a suitable location, he decided on the Niagara region of Ontario. You know, that place right over the Rainbow Bridge, once you get past all the Falls hullabaloo. With all the wineries, and the Shaw Festival.

And so next weekend brings the first edition of NIFF: The Niagara Integrated Film Festival. The ”I” could have stood, as it usually does, for “international,” but “integrated” refers to the festival’s mixture of film with those qualities Niagara is already known for, food and wine. In conjunction with six of the area’s wineries and brewers, NIFF will offer two dining and viewing combinations: “Filmalicious,” an evening that includes dinner at a winery followed by a film and guest speaker; and “Film Feast,” a four-hour afternoon bus tour of three wineries that includes tastings, hors d’oeuvres and a screening of “Canada’s Not Short on Talent,” the presentation of Canadian short films sent to Cannes every year.

All well and good: I like to eat as much as the next person, but a festival stands or falls on the quality of the films it shows. NIFF is fortunate to have landed the programming services of Tony Watts, who since 1970 has worked with film festivals as notable as Berlin, London, Rotterdam, Thessaloniki, Barcelona, and Göteborg.

For its premiere edition, NIFF has scored two notable coups. The first is the “Hector Dimwittie Trilogy,” a trio of 30-minute films made in 1957 to showcase the talents of a then-young Peter Sellers. Two of the films were thought to have been lost until recently. What makes their discovery even more astonishing—and pertinent to a Canadian festival—is that they were written by Mordecai Richler, then also in his salad days before becoming Canada’s literary lion. The program will be hosted by director Ted Kotcheff, who in the 50s worked on an unrealized project with Richler, Sellers and fellow Goon Spike Milligan.

An even rarer treat for film buffs is the first festival screening of “Their First Misunderstanding,” the 1911 Mary Pickford comedy that was recently discovered in a New Hampshire barn. Painstakingly restored, the short will be shown with several other Pickford rarities at a special presentation hosted by Pickford expert Christel Schmidt.

If all you want out of a film festival is the chance to gorge at a buffet of new movies in the months before the rest of your friends get to see them, you can do that at the Landmark Cinema in St. Catherines, where the bulk of screenings will be held. Among the most promising:

Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George, longtime partners who are torn apart when their marriage raises the ire of one’s employer.

The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, the North American premiere of the comedy that has been an enormous hit in its native Sweden.

Watermark, a new collaboration between director Jennifer Baichwal,and radical photographer Edward Burtynsky (Manufactured Landscapes) that revisits the theme of a natural world reshaped by man.

God Help the Girl, a Scottish musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle & Sebastian.

A Night in Old Mexico, starring Robert Duvall as an aging Texas rancher who enlists his grandson on a hellraising trip to Mexico.

Cold in July, Texas noir with Dexter’s Michael C. Hall as a family man whose trouble only begin when he kills a burglar in his home

War of the Worlds: Goliath, a steampunk-inspired animated sequel to H. G. Welles in which mankind is better armed when the Martians return for another go at our planet.

The Infinite Man, a berserk sci-fi comedy from Australia about a control freak who invents a time machine to try to fix a romantic mistake, only to involve him and his girlfriend in a Groundhog Day-ish spiral.

Frank, absurd comedy about a Manchester band let by Michael Fassbender, though you may have to take that on faith as his character always wears a goofy oversized papier mache mask.

Cas & Dylan, road movie starring Richard Dreyfuss as a dying doctor whose plans for his final days are altered when he picks up a young hitchchiker.

Third Person, a new multicharacter drama written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash) and starring Liam Neesom, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Kim Basinger and Maria Ballo.

For a complete schedule and information about ticket packages visit niagarafilmfest.com.


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