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AFCOOP celebrates 45 years

The film co-op has a temporary home after tropical storm Dorian ruined their building

3 min read
caption Martha Cooley is the executive director of AFCOOP.
Lucia Helder

The Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative is celebrating its 45th anniversary with a 45-hour film challenge this weekend.

Participants have 45 hours after receiving prompts to write, shoot and edit a short film.

Martha Cooley, the executive director of AFCOOP since 2013, has been working with the co-op for 10 years.

“What’s really nice about the idea of the little film challenge is it’s just meant to be fun,” she said. “There’s not a lot of pressure.”

AFCOOP used to do a holiday film challenge on Super 8 film. Super 8 film isn’t developed locally anymore — the labs are all in Toronto and Montreal — so AFCOOP moved away from that. Participants in the challenge can use up to $400 of the equipment of their choice.

“There can be a lot of pressure to make something really high quality or original and different, and this is something that takes that pressure off and just encourages people to have fun,” said Cooley.

The screening of the challenge films will be the first event in AFCOOP’s new temporary space on Grafton Street, so it’s an open house as well. After the screening, the audience will vote on awards for the short films. People generally tend to make comedies, Cooley said. Sometimes the films are holiday themed, but they don’t have to be.

Building community

Looking back at the co-op’s 45-year history, Cooley sees AFCOOP as a kind of bedrock in the Atlantic film industry. Nova Scotia filmmakers like director Chuck Lapp and producer Don Duchene were two of the original members of AFCOOP.

“When the co-op was founded, the big challenge was getting access to equipment,” Cooley said. “Nobody on the East Coast had cameras and there weren’t any places to rent them either, so it was quite difficult to make work out here.”

Today, she says, the needs of filmmakers have changed. Digital cameras and modern software have made filmmaking more accessible. The co-op still focuses on equipment, but also offers teaching programs. Through those programs, filmmakers can meet each other while learning.

“The one thing I see is this continuous throughline throughout those whole 45 years is the concept of a community,” Cooley said. “Film is a collaborative art form. You really need people to help you make a film, so you need to find those people.”

For AFCOOP, part of fostering that community is having a welcoming space.

The co-op used to be in an old brick building on Cornwallis Street, across from Dee Dee’s Ice Cream. The walls were painted different colours and the fluorescent lights were replaced.

“We really worked to make the space cozy and comfortable and a place people could hang out,” Cooley said.

That was, until tropical storm Dorian tore the roof off of the building. Because AFCOOP’s space was on the first floor, none of their equipment was damaged.

“Water was pouring in,” Cooley said. “We went upstairs and it sounded like a shower was on.”

Shortly after the storm, AFCOOP received a notice that they had a month to leave. The landlord asked all the tenants to leave so the building could be repaired and updated.

AFCOOP’s plan was to move to the Culture Link in fall of 2020, but they expected to stay in the building until then.

“We have a lot of stuff, furniture and specialized equipment,” Cooley said. “So it was kind of a scramble to pack all of that.”

The new space, being temporary, feels less like that for Cooley. But AFCOOP will carry on, decorate for the holidays and celebrate filmmaking.

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About the author

Lucia Helder

Lucia Helder has interned at Maine Public and is the copy editor of the Dal Gazette.

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