FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival has raised the bar from a content point-of-view once again, says executive director Wayne Carter.
Case-in-point is another strong opening night film. After Maudie and Tragically Hip doc Long Time Running, this year features comeback film Splinters from hometown director Thom Fitzgerald.
"We're so happy to have Thom's new film, and it's unbelievably Nova Scotian. Shot and set in the Valley, it has a Nova Scotian cast and crew, except for the lead, who has Newfoundland roots herself," he said.
"Opening night sets the tone. Having us come home for it and do something unique to this area marks the beginning of a festival with some amazing Atlantic fare."
He mentions anthology film Hopeless Romantic -- made by six of the biggest female directors from the Maritimes -- and Newfoundland filmmaker Deanne Foley's An Audience of Chairs.
With genre horror film G. Patrick Condon's Incredible Violence -- the debut from the Newfoundland director -- he says it's a must-see.
"It's just really cool and edgy. He really goes for broke, and it's built on a clever concept and strong performances," said Carter.
"We also have Jay Dahl's Halloween Party, and our opening weekend is very Atlantic-focused. Films complement each other, and we're also pleased to have female-driven projects in abundance this year."
When he looks at more Hollywood films, he sees Life Itself as a big draw. Dan Fogelman's feature film -- he's the creator of TV tear-jerker This Is Us -- is getting huge buzz.
"We can't have everything be regional, Canadian and foreign, so we try to find Hollywood movies that make sense for our slate. We think Life Itself will go on into awards season," he said.
With Sisters Brothers, a western-comedy with Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal, Carter thinks it's a great festival pick.
"It has a Hollywood cast, but Jacques Audiard is a festival director. We are counting on that edge," he said.
"Not everyone who comes to the festival is a cinephile, and we work to have something for everyone. With Sisters Brothers -- and this whole year too -- it's clear Joaquin is back on his game. He wandered in the wilderness for a while, but he's back in a big way."
With Cannes and TIFF selections Capernaum, The Wild Pear Tree, Transit and Cold War, Carter is appealing to foreign language film buffs as well.
"I tried to get into Cold War at Cannes twice and actually couldn't so I hope to catch up and see it. It was the talk of Cannes for 10 days," he said.
"Transit was great, and I caught it in Berlin. It's a unique spin on the story of refugees."
He also saw Ruper Everett passion project The Happy Prince in Berlin, and says his work paid off.
"He directed, wrote and starred in this film about Oscar Wilde, and it's a real crowd pleaser. People are going to dig it," he said.
Documentary Love, Scott and Sharkwater: Extinction are also films to watch, with the former revolving around the attack of a gay man in New Glasgow that left him paraplegic.
Sharkwater is the last film of Rob Stewart, who died in an accident while filming. It's being shown Wednesday, while the G7 Summit is in Halifax.
But it's two female-driven films that Carter has high Oscar hopes for this year.
"It's hard to imagine Keira Knightley won't be nominated for Colette, as it's her strongest work. Dominic West is in it, but this is all her," he said.
"Also, with our closing night film The Wife, we have Glenn Close starring. She's been nominated six times and never won, and this could be the one. She's spellbinding beginning to end."
Regardless of whether people show up for short films, documentaries or even his brainchild Extreme films -- packed with gore and supremely weird -- he says people should be able to find things they enjoy.
"We want people to show up, and we're confident with this slate of different and diverse films this year," he said.
The festival goes from September 13 to 20 at Park Lane Cinemas, and tickets are available now.