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Axani's film sweeps Vancouver's short film festival

Marshall Axani

Marshall Axani

By Faye Bayko

For the Globe

Former Lacombe high school student Marshall Axani continues to pull in awards and praise for his short film, The Light of Family Burnham.

The twenty-four-year old Axani who now lives and works in Vancouver was thrilled by his film's sweep of the professional category in this year's Vancouver Short Film Festival (VSFF) held October 23 and 24.

"It was really great! It was kind of a surprise," said the young filmmaker during a recent phone interview. "We hadn't gone into a festival and won awards so it was kind of a big sweep for us."

Axani and his crew too the William F White award for best short film, the Director's Guild of Canada BC award for best director, the PS Vancouver award for best cinematography, the VSFF best screenplay award, the Audio Coalition award for best audio design, and the audience choice award. David Lewis, who played Michael Burnam, the father of the main character, won the best actor award.

This was the first year the VSFF showcased professional and international short films, moving away from its history of being a student focused festival. "We switched from a student film fest to a professional shorts fest (inclusive of students) because we felt that there was a demand for an official short film festival in Western Canada," explained Sandra Garcia, festival director in a recent email. "Shorts are having a renaissance with more broadcasters and online distributors looking and paying for short form content. Also, arts councils do not fund students so the change was inevitable if we ever wanted to attempt to get any grant funding."

With over $19,000 in cash and in-kind prizes provided by local and national sponsors the festivals drew a competitive list of 139 local and 21 international short films.

Axani's 20-minute film follows a young boy dieing of cancer as he plans his own funeral and helps his father and grandfather come to terms with his inevitable end. The screenplay which Axani wrote won the first annual Motion Picture Production Industry of British Columbia Short Film Award in December 2007, from which the cash and in-kind service prizes allowed Axani to make the film with the assistance of co-producer Doug Kerr, director of photography Danny Nowak, and production designer Shane Vieau. Casting was handled by Lynne Carrow.

In April of this year the film was nominated for LEO awards for cinematography, production design, musical score (Wesley Krauss), screenwriting, and best short drama but was unsuccessful.

The VSFF win was a solid bounce back. The exposure and prizes will assist with future film projects developed and produced by Awkward Moment Productions, the film company Axani shares with partners Doug Kerr and Chris Judson.

The film, however, has also allowed Axani to showcase and promote filmmaking. Like filmmakers in Alberta, BC artists are struggling to keep their industry alive. When Axani attended the ground-breaking ceremony of Capilano University's new film centre in August he was invited by Ralph Sultan, MLA, West Vancouver-Capilano, to screen his short film for an audience of members of the Legislature in Victoria. He jumped at the chance.

"BC's having a hard time keeping up with the tax credits (Toronto) that we haven't matched yet. So, some productions are moving away from BC and we're not sure what next year's going to look like."

Axani was accompanied to Victoria by Bill Thumm, director of the Capilano University film centre, a $30 million project both provincial and federal governments have committed to which will provide future generations of filmmakers with a modern facility to learn their craft. The screening of Axani's film in October was part of a series of screenings held each Wednesday at the Legislature during the fall.

"One of the things that we always hope is that if we get the chance to talk to somebody in power they'll see that there's a new wave coming through and there's a lot of potential for marketability, a lot more local projects and we could build our indigenous industry a lot stronger," said Axani.

"I think they'll then start getting excited and see this new wave of filmmakers, and even the old wave, really want to just get more stories out there and get more work for the community even if the US service industry isn't booming."

The future of the film industry may be up in the air but Axani has no plans on leaving it or moving out of Vancouver. He is presently wrapping up post production on a behind-the-scenes film from this summer's shoot south of Osoyoos of Paul Gross' new movie Gunless. The work is part of his day job with Brightlights Productions, which pays the bills and builds the experience and skill he will eventually invest into his next film.

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