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Icelandic Manitoba to Fire Up Summer Festivals

Published: 05/31/2011

The beach resort and fishing town of Gimli, Manitoba, hub of the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland, will host a unique film festival, an Icelandic cultural festival, and, with neighboring communities, an extensive self-guided tour of artists' studios and galleries.

Gimli sits on the western shoreline of Lake Winnipeg, a prairie ocean that's one of the world's largest lakes. In Norse mythology, Gimli means ‘Home of the Gods" or "Paradise." Gimli is about an hour's drive from the provincial capital of Winnipeg and its international airport.

Gimli International Film Festival
The 11th annual Gimli International Film Festival July 20-24, gives new meaning to the phrase "beach movies."

The festival is known for its free nightly screenings on Gimli's lakefront beach. Films are projected over the lake onto a 35-foot-by-35-foot screen erected offshore on a sandbar surrounded by water. The family-friendly screenings attract crowds averaging 500 moviegoers per night, who bring their own beach blankets, cushions, and folding chairs.

The celestial fireworks of the aurora borealis - the northern lights - sometimes appear in the night sky over the lake, competing for spectators' attention with the entertainment illuminating the screen. "It is a magical experience," says Cheryl Ashton, the festival's executive director.

The film festival, Manitoba's largest, is notable not only for its beachfront viewings but also for its emphasis on new and recent work by Canadian and Icelandic filmmakers, plus those from other Nordic circumpolar nations. Approximately 80 films are screened indoors and outdoors at the festival, including full-length features and documentaries and short documentaries and narrative films. The complete festival lineup will be announced June 20 (204-642-8846; www.gimlifilm.com).

More than 5,000 visitors attended last summer's event, according to festival officials. The celebrated Manitoba-born filmmaker Guy Maddin is on the festival's advisory board.

The nonprofit film festival prides itself on its relaxed, egalitarian atmosphere. Organizers point out that you don't have to be a celebrity or show-business insider to attend film-industry events and parties. Anyone can rub shoulders with visiting producers, directors, and actors.

Tickets to indoor screenings, held at three Gimli theaters within walking distance of the town's center, are $8 Canadian ($8.21 U.S.). A festival pass, at $40 ($41 U.S.), provides admission to all screenings. An all-access pass, also available to the public, costs $50 ($51 U.S.) and includes admission to all films, industry sessions, and hospitality events.

The festival's website promises an opening night party with "special guests, filmmakers of note and captivating personalities."

Cinematic offerings will include the top-10 entries in a new short-film competition called "The Lake." Fictional and documentary shorts will be judged by how well they capture "the essence" of Lake Winnipeg. Also new this year is the Music at the Movies program. Emerging young Manitoba bands deemed worthy of wider exposure will perform before each beachfront screening.

Icelandic Festival
The 122nd annual Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, July 29-August 1, combines an international flavor with traditional Midwestern small-town sensibilities. Most attractions and activities are free of charge (204-642-7417; www.icelandicfestival.com).

The festival, known as "Islendingadagurinn," includes Gimli Viking Village, a temporary living-history encampment where Viking re-enactors in historically accurate clothing depict everyday life in Viking times and demonstrate Viking weapons and warfare tactics.

In the harbor area, craft vendors will sell jewelry, pottery, stained glass, and other items. A history and culture pavilion, a parade, poetry readings, an alternative folk music festival, and concerts ranging from jazz to rock to classical are on the agenda. The competitively inclined can enter sandcastle-building, volleyball, Fris-Nok, and pole vault contests. The Islendingadunk is a combination pillow fight and joust fought while sitting on a pole suspended over the water; the object is to dunk your opponent.

Souvenir Viking helmets are likely to be as common on the beach and along the parade route as cheese-head hats in Wisconsin.

Although the emphasis is on all things Icelandic, the festival offers a few typically Manitoban multicultural mash-ups. A poster for the daily pancake breakfast directs visitors to a community center that's "right behind the Ukrainian Catholic Church." A pizza-eating contest - with a cash prize - is sponsored by Brennivins Pizza Hüs. Instead of eating pepperoni pizza, contestants gorge on "Rulapizza" topped with seasoned lamb and beef salami - a tribute to rullapylsa, an Icelandic lamb dish.

Visitors fired up for Icelandic culture can pursue their interests further at Gimli's New Iceland Heritage Museum, with its exhibits on the history of Manitoba's Icelandic community and of Lake Winnipeg and its fishing industry (204-642-4001; www.nihm.ca).

Get in the middle of a Viking battle! Watch this video of the Icelandic Festival in Gimli.

‘The Wave' Art Studio Tour
Gimli, Winnipeg Beach, and neighboring towns are on the itinerary of the 10th annual Wave Artists Tour, a free self-guided tour of 40 artists' studios and art galleries from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. September 3-4.

The Wave tour route follows the western shoreline of Lake Winnipeg, with its vast marshlands and charming country lanes. Studios flying blue-and-white tour flags are where visitors are welcome to come in, browse, meet the artists, and discuss their work (204-642-4873; www.watchthewave.ca).

Area artists work in a multitude of media, creating oil, acrylic, watercolor, and encaustic (hot beeswax and pigment) paintings; ceramics; "prairie art" quilts; painted window and door screens; jewelry; wood sculpture; fiber art; hand-dyed silks; wood furniture; guitars; and other pieces.

For comprehensive travel information, contact Travel Manitoba (800-665-0040;www.travelmanitoba.com). Another source is the Interlake Tourism Association (877-468-3752;www.interlaketourism.com).

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