It’s fall and the leaves are changing color. Dying, some might say.

It’s the morning after the opening night party of the 2011 Edmonton International Film Festival. My own film, The Untitled Work of Paul Shepard, will screen later that day, and I’ve decided to take a walk across the bridge perched over the North Saskatchewan River. It’s one of the most spectacular views in the world. I’ll return to this walk, this view, this festival with each of my subsequent films.

EIFF is a festival that makes you feel like you’re coming home—that you matter. The festival never uses shrinking budgets, like so many other festivals do, as an excuse to lessen your experience. They take care of you in a way that lets you know that your being there is important to the festival. From giving you a fantastic place to stay (with a complimentary breakfast to rival most high-class brunches) to the way they show pride in their city by offering to take you around and show you the sights. My third time attending the festival, all it took was a casual mention that I’d never been to the famous West Edmonton Mall, and staff were already planning how to whisk me over there with a personal guide. Hell, they had someone pick me up at another film festival in Calgary just so I wouldn’t have to take a long bus ride. That’s not going the extra mile; that’s going the extra half-province.

The promotion that EIFF does for each film rival the work of festivals twice its size. The fest gets you as much local news coverage, both on television and radio, as they can muster. The kind of thing you’d normally need your own publicist to take care of—they do it all of their own accord, because you and your film matter to them.

The networking opportunities far surpass expectations. My first time attending, I was able to meet Avi Federgreen (who would end up distributing my second feature film, Sex After Kids, and executive-producing my third, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town), and Jay Brazeau, who would co-star in my next feature. I got to spend time with moviemakers Carl Bessai and Paul Gross and strike up an unlikely friendship with Deepa Mehta.

And none of this even touches on the main reason for attending a film festival: to screen your film. The venue is perfect, the audiences enthusiastic and plentiful. The Q&As are always handled with a love of film and filmmakers, and really get the crowd involved.

Having screened three feature films and won two awards there, EIFF is a festival that’s very close to my heart; for me, it’s a must-attend. I look forward to each time I’m invited back to take in the beauty of the dying leaves, amongst a festival that is very much alive. MM

Jeremy LaLonde is the writer/director of three feature films, including How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, which had its U.S. premiere at Slamdance 2016. He is raising funds for his next film, The Go-Getters.