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Strong Snakebite opens cluster of shoulder season Penticton festivals

Is Penticton, once a hub of dormancy from Christmas through to spring, changing its ways? Is it becoming a shoulder-season festival hotspot?

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Certainly looks that way.

In just a couple weeks, SOICS (South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services) will present the tenth annual edition of its one-day multicultural celebration known as the OneWorld Festival (Lakeside Resort, Feb. 25).

Just a month after that, Paul Crawford and the Penticton Art Gallery, in association with a bevy of other local entities, launch the second annual Ignite the Arts Festival (various locations, March 24 to April 2).

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Festival Workshop

And just two weeks later, the Trade and Convention Centre lights up with the 26th annual Okanagan Fest of Ale (April 14 and 15).

That’s a lot of stuff in a short time span in a traditionally quiet time of the year when businesses most need the patronage.

And let's not forget the four-day event that kicked it all off -- the fifth annual Snakebite Film Festival, which Sunday completed its most successful run to date.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Carl Meadows (centre)

Indeed, if Snakebite organizers, led by the Energizer Bunny known as Carl Meadows, have their way, the inclusivity-centric festival is only going to get bigger and better going forward.

The show launched Thursday evening with a packed-to-the-rafters shindig at The Black Antler restaurant and a "drag slam" -- featuring Meadows himself and Indigenous performance artist Madeleine Terbasket as "Rez Daddy" -- at Pizzeria Tratto.

Between then and the event culmination Sunday evening there were five feature-length films and a number of shorts. There was also a Snakebite wine tour Saturday and a workshop, at Theo's restaurant, Sunday afternoon.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

According to Meadows, all of it together was "incredible."

"We had 800 people in seats over four days," he said. "Our target was 350, and we’d set the capacity for 400. Out of the five films, we had three sellouts -- Bones of Crows, Riceboy Sleeps and Wildhood.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"I asked people Sunday night (as he addressed the audience prior to the final flick) who'd been to all five films. Almost three-quarters of the audience put their hands up."

Ultimately, he said, the turnout was 33% better than the previous best year, 2020.

PentictonNow stopped by the workshop Sunday and found an entertaining and useful discussion on social media marketing for filmmakers in full swing.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Festival Workshop

Leading the group was Albuquerque, New Mexico based actor, screenwriter and producer Keith Allen West, a guy who didn’t break into acting 'til midlife but has parlayed his interest into numerous roles in big-budget films and knows a thing or two about marketing.

He was a solid workshop leader and a funny guest speaker. And a big festival fan too.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Festival Workshop

"I'm here because of the festival," he said. "I'm here because Carl is best friends with one of my best friends and we’ve been looking for a reason to put us all together.

"And I was, like, film festival? Yes!"

West dished advice by the bucket load Sunday and attendees were clearly intrigued. And then they all scarfed back a bunch of food. It was the type of event that puts the "festival" in film festival.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Festival Workshop at Theo's

"What I've learned as I've gotten into the industry," said West about his guidance, which went beyond the realm of filmmakers and into general life, "is that everybody talks about what they’re doing, but nine out of ten people don’t finish it.

"So to come here and do this and to see films that aren’t on my radar inspires me to be more creative."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Festival Workshop

Now, Meadows and his festival committee look toward 2024 and beyond. And they see few limitations.

"When you're doing a festival," said Meadows, "you want it to be a destination event. People want cocktail parties, maybe a Directors Guild event, something that wraps you up into the event. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more restaurants coming forward too in the years ahead.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Festival Workshop

"The wine tour this time was excellent. We laughed our freaking heads off. Then the workshop. We'll definitely do the same thing again, maybe with different topics."

He talked about the businesses and the restaurants that got involved this year, about the profit-sharing he's built into the model, and how he wants "everybody who's been a part of it to actually get a piece of it."

And Meadows, who's unabashedly excited at what transpired in 2023 and even spent a little time reading us some of the often-poignant commentary he's received since the festival ended, is already in planning mode.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who

"Next year I think our big advancement is to keep it to the Thursday to Sunday format," he said, "but to book two theatres at a time. So eight films. One Thursday night, two on Friday, two for the Saturday matinee, two for Saturday evening, and then the closer Sunday.

"Next year I think we'll also become an official society. Then it’s a precursor one day for becoming a charity."

But perhaps most importantly, Meadows believes the event is now "branded into people's minds."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"Now people are hooked," he said. "They're excited that Penticton actually supports a film festival of this magnitude in February. They've seen what we can do and they're telling their friends.

"Now we have to pick our dates earlier so people can plan around it."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

One other thing. Meadows will retire from his position with Interior Health this July. That means he'll suddenly have way more time for stuff like festivals.

That bodes well not just for the future of Snakebite but perhaps the whole scene.

"What am I going to do?" he asked with a laugh. "What am I not going to do. I've got a lot of things in mind."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

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