The Niagara Integrated Film Festival (NIFF) is a fantastic idea combining many of the things the Southern Ontario Region is noted for: Great Films, Food and Wine.
Founded by Bill Marshall, also a founder of the Festival of Festivals, now The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), NIFF takes place in the vineyards throughout the Niagara Region.
Packages include gala events with 5 course meals, “Filmalicious” with station style dinners, Film Feast, with drinks and bites offered at a mini winery tour, and the Spotlight Series, in traditional cinemas, doubtless sans wine, but with a longer program for the true film buffs…or those that took a tour earlier in the day.
As a former film student, foodie and Apollonian Dionysian, (I’m Greek, indulge me). I loved the idea of this festival immediately upon hearing about it, and was excited recently to attend a bloggers event where we were taken on one of the two Film Feast mini coach tours that are scheduled for the event.
The event was a blast, despite the fact that I was only marginally awake…eyes open, brain at half speed, thanks to having completed the Mother of All Moves, at 10pm the evening before.
We met at 9am at 250 Front St, in front of the CBC Mothership, and travelled in a mini-coach with its own interior light show and 80’s music…it was like being in an early rock video, except we didn’t begin to drink until a couple of hours later. Thankfully, I’d had the time to grab an egg salad sandwich and coffee at one of the vendors in the food court below. NB. If you are ever in the CBC building and need to get a quick and delicious sandwich and coffee with very little lineup, go to the convenience store/deli thing…they’re excellent.
After a quick stop to pick up more bloggers and a local news reporter in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we went on a tour of three wineries for a selection of wines, food pairings and movies.
Pondview Estates Winery, our first stop, was by far my favourite. The hosts were warm and charming, clearly beaming with pride over the estate, and justifiably so. They had planned to do the presentation indoors, but thanks to unexpected beautiful weather, we were hosted outdoors on the veranda overlooking the estate vineyards. It was a lovely setting and a wonderful way to begin the tour.
Our hostess Kimberly, told us the company history, instructed us on wine technique, and introduced each pairing with excellent showmanship, reminding us to wait for the right moment to appreciate the pairings, as her colleague gracefully filled our glasses. Lou Puglisi stood by beaming and spoke about growing the business and growing in it.
The foods for pairing were simply cheese and charcuterie, but excellent (with the exception of an excessively fatty prosciutto, left unfinished), well chosen for their pairings, and presented with a sense of showmanship.
The wines were lovely, Harmony White served with Brie, Bella Terra Chardonnay with Gran Padano, and Cab Merlot or Harmony red with the unfortunate prosciutto, I chose the Cab Merlot, which I loved and as a dedicated imbiber of red wines was surprised at how much I enjoyed the white wines, particularly the Chardonnay, usually not a favourite of mine, but I would happily have this on my wine rack.
Then we were led to screenings in the barrel room, in a space created by walls of wine. It was a cool room, but we were offered warm and colourful blankets, which made it cosy and fun.
The films were each gripping and memorable. one about feuding fishermen and a selfless act of courage that transcended the conflict; the other about Inuit fishermen following the old ways and a mysterious violent event. The chill of the room suited both films perfectly, adding to the theme of cold and loss.
From Pondview, we went to Konzelmann Estates Winery, where we were led to a very gothic presentation room in the Barrel Cellar, and greeted by Simon, a genial and gracious host. They served a passable Pinot Noir that was low-priced, but full bodied, paired with a trio of canapes that ranged from appetizer, to main, to dessert. Chicken Ceasar Salad in a Frico Basket, Smoked Salmon Blini’s, and Mini Strawberry Muffin with Mascarpone.
The films were again well-chosen for the location, with the gothic ambiance of the room perfectly suitable to the themes of internal conflict and doubt. Both excellent films, The Time Keeper and Saving Face looked at the ideas of how we spend our time, and what truly is success?
Finally, we arrived at Pillitteri Estate Winery, where the presentation room was a spacious event room overlooking the vineyards, which was lovely when we were sipping wine and tasting the bites offered.
Sadly, there was little showmanship for this particular event and while the wines were introduced to us and the pairings explained, it was a more perfunctory experience than the two prior (and the food was merely okay). I was aware of the reasons for the pairing, but not drawn into it.
For the record, the trick is not when the magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat, it’s when we’re shown the empty hat, and drawn together into the promise of the trick…and the razzle dazzle happens. Abracadabra! The rabbit is merely the result.
Unfortunately, the blinds were forgotten for the beginning of the screenings and from my vantage point the films were a wash of light. This was corrected midway, allowing the final excellent films Farewell, and Sleeping Giant, to be clearly seen.
Relatively speaking though, these were small issues, as the Pillateri wines, a Pino Gris, a Cab Merlot, and a Vidal Ice Wine were each fabulous, the Vidal being my favourite of the day, and still lingering on the memory of my tongue over a week later.
I recommend this particular tour and am sure that the other is an equally enjoyable experience, and good value for money as an afternoon jaunt.
The rest of the festival has some excellent offerings as well that are more than worth checking out.
Runs from June 18 – 21.
To book tickets: NiagaraFilmFest.com