This is a series of articles to recognize and celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Yorkton Film Festival.
After the first Yorkton International Film Festival in 1950, Canadian Film News reported "In Ottawa, film producers and distributors marveled at the enterprise, if not the audacity of the prairie city that dared to organize a traditionally European event…" That statement was true then and indeed, it is true today. Audacity is key to the festival – past and present.
In 1948, Jim Lysyshyn of the National Film Board made the first audacious step when he approached the Yorkton Film Council to organize a festival. The Oscars with its emphasis on feature films, he said, were stealing all the glamour in the film world. Documentaries needed their pride of place as well. The National Film Board and the industry in general needed a festival to flaunt the glories of Canadian documentary film. The organizers should come from Yorkton, he said, for they were descendants of Saskatchewan pioneers, the ultimate risk-takers in a land of uncertainty.
The folks of the Yorkton Film Council met with Jim Lysyshyn in Nettie Kryski's living room, tea cups in hand, dainties on the side tables. They looked at poor Jim with skepticism and said "no", a gentle but decided no. Who had ever heard of a film festival? Certainly, not the people of Yorkton. Certainly, not the people of Canada and certainly not the people of North America either. The film festival movement was in its infancy and that infant lived in Europe. It was a preposterous idea. What other answer could there be but no?
A determined Jim Lysyshyn returned from his home in Canora one month later. He added his two sugar cubes to the fine china cup, stirred his tea, and began once again. If the group wasn't interested in a festival of Canadian film, perhaps they'd look at an international film festival. Amazingly, the group agreed. An organizing committee was pushed into action and the date set – October 11 and 12, 1950.
Audacity in action – that was the requirement. The group set the film categories and made up the rules. "Made up" was the correct terminology. No one else had ever established a film festival in North America and so the group couldn't borrow the regulations from anyone else. Nettie Kryski, the secretary-treasurer, contacted foreign embassies in Ottawa. Just imagine what that scene looked like. The third undersecretary of the Netherlands took the letter opener and carefully slit open the envelope. On the sheet before him was the Yorkton Film Council with Nettie's home address. No office of course. The letter asked that the Embassy submit Dutch films to their festival. A film festival – what's a film festival? the official might have thought. And Yorkton – where's Yorkton? The clerk from the New Zealand High Commission would do no better. Off the officials might go to talk to a superior about the peculiar – might I say audacious – letter.
The correspondence was followed by telegrams and even telephone calls – from the embassies of course. A very careful Nettie Kryski would hesitate to make long distance calls. The film council coffers were always nigh on to empty.
After the talk and all the organization, the festival proved a great success. The competition included forty films from nine different countries. More important, however, was the reaction of the good citizens of Yorkton. They were awe-struck that a little city of 8000 could attract such an event. They were more than ready to support a similar venture two years hence.