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Feb. 23, 2020 | Sunday
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Shaw Festival film series shortens winter weeks for fun-loving local folk
Anticipating “A Star is Born” last Saturday afternoon at the weekly Shaw Festival Film Series. (Ross Robinson/Special)

Quietly over the past fifteen years, a very special film phenomena has crept into the social fabric of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Many Canadians are snowbirds, heading south for the winter. But many of us stay in Niagara and find ways to entertain ourselves as the hours of darkness trump the hours of light.

A Shaw Festival film on a Saturday afternoon is so much more than just a movie. We could drive over to St. Catharines or Niagara Falls for Two Dollar Tuesdays, pay way too much for a tub of popcorn with extra butter and a sugar filled, supersized soda pop, or stay home and watch Netflix on TV. But the cachet of sitting in the elegant Shaw Festival Theatre, surrounded by interesting and open-minded film lovers, adds a certain sense of je ne sais quoi to the occasion.

The weekly two-hour film psychologically cuts three or four days out of each week. It is so easy to phlegmatically remain housebound, as the winter weeks slide by. 

Some keeners arrive early at 1:30 to spread their winter coats, brightly-coloured scarves or purses over their seats. The crowd in the foyer grows, the chattering noise levels rise, and the whole ambience just seems so festive.  More gossip is spread than at the produce counters at Valu-mart. So NOTL. 

Goodness me, film lovers have travelled from as far away as Niagara Falls and Welland and Grimsby to enjoy yet another NOTL experience.

My colleague Tim Taylor limned the history of the Shaw Festival Film Series in his edifying story on Jan. 24 in The Lake Report.

The creativity, determination and generosity of Stephen Levy, Carol and John Walker and their wingers have provided so many “who knew” moments.

The effervescent smiles of the volunteer team as they enthusiastically welcome us, and sell four lucky draw tickets for ten thin dollars. (All proceeds remitted to the Shaw Festival, the wonderful partners who provide their world class theatre for our small town outings.) 

Lucky draw prizes are always appreciated, donated by the award winning Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Show, Garrison House, Treadwell’s, Ginger and the Dollar Store on Welland Avenue in St. Catharines.

At almost exactly 3 p.m. each Shaw Film day, the uniquely talented Stephen Levy takes to the stage to provide a brief preview of what’s coming.

Intuitive, incisive, easy-to-love, and occasionally irreverent and politically incorrect, he calls a spade a horticultural instrument.

Thank goodness the house lights have been dimmed, because sometimes there are a lot of blushing cheeks in the audience.

Last week, the mood in the theatre was so positive as Stephen finished his remarks, he was overcome by the vibe, and invited everyone over to his home after the film to toasts marshmallows.

Most of us tend to live in our own spaces, and we have learned so much at the Shaw films.

And, the community social continues after the film credits are rolled. Who was the key grip and who was the best boy on this one? Around NOTL, many houses are rockin’ as post-show cocktails and dinners are served. 

Last Saturday, I was so happy to share post film fellowship at Helmi Moehl’s foresty home in Chautauqua.

Truly a tree lover’s delight.

During our delightful time together, we solved a few problems, created a few problems, and unanimously decided to pass on a few problems.

The optimistic and learned comments by Salli and Don McDonald, retired High School bosses, reminded us all how great and interesting teenagers are during those challenging years.

“I love teenagers,” they kept saying. The always effulgently dressed Charlotte Lewis delighted in describing her recent trip to South Africa, and her most recent luncheon at the StageCoach on Queen Street.

The Shaw Festival Film Series is a catalyst for community spirit.

For a couple of days after a film, we think about it, we talk about it, and we plan for next Saturday. It has become so, so much more than a film. Not just a movie, but now an integral part of living in our special Niagara Peninsula.

Vive the Film Series. Vive le Shaw Festival. Vive Niagara-on-the-Lake.

We are so fortunate to live in Canada in 2019.