SUNDRE — After announcing last month a roughly year-long effort to pitch the Pipe Nation pilot episode had yet to secure a deal with a network or streaming service, the creative mind behind the original series was “blown away” to learn his show received a number of independent film festival awards.
Edmonton-based independent filmmaker Raoul Bhatt recently learned his show won two awards at the 2022 Vancouver Independent Film Festival in the categories of Best Trailer and Best Cinematography in Short before being informed days later that Pipe Nation also won Best TV Series Pilot at the 2022 Indie Cinema Awards in Helsinki, Finland.
“This legitimizes who we are as a team,” said Bhatt.
“After a year of criticism, and the way buyers kind of treat us, that was disheartening. But to get this feedback and awards, that’s a cool feeling,” he told the Albertan during a video interview.
“So, I think I’m going to hit up all these buyers again.”
And with film festival season essentially just getting underway, the potential to bag even more awards remains bright. After all, Bhatt submitted the pilot to about two dozen events that as of earlier in April remained under consideration, including Sunset International Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Canadian Cinematography Awards, Calgary International Film Festival, Toronto Arthouse Film Festival, Portland Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film & Script Festival.
Bhatt informed the Albertan on April 9 that Pipe Nation had also received special mentions by being named a semi-finalist at the Toronto Independent Festival of Cift in the long feature film category.
The story’s stage is set in a fictional town called Hardwell, which is portrayed by Sundre, and tells the tale of the community’s real-life struggle to adapt to a transitioning economy with the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Winning the awards has not changed his mind to pursue extending the finished 52-minute pilot episode into a standalone, full-length feature film.
“I think we can leverage this towards the fundraising campaign,” he said.
Looking farther down the proverbial road, Bhatt even mused about eventually submitting the feature to the internationally renowned Cannes Film Festival in France.
When asked what initially went through his mind upon learning the news that Pipe Nation had picked up some awards, he replied, “I feel blown away.”
But considering the amount of work and effort the cast and crew invested into the show, which involved multiple edits and re-edits often guided by industry insiders who offered input, Bhatt said he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s unheard of for an Edmonton- or even Alberta-based production to crush it at this level,” he said. “I’m not surprised — we never gave up, we kept massaging, kept working it.”
Although yet to pop open any bottles of champagne as of the time he spoke with the Albertan, Bhatt said the team was celebrating in excitement.
“The team is re-energized. It’s such an incredible feeling,” he said. “Going through a year of feedback and criticism can crush your spirit. But this just reinvigorates things.”
Bhatt said he wanted to gather the team together to watch the pilot “because a lot of our cast and crew hasn’t even seen it,” he said.
From there, he hopes to glean some ideas on what scenes could be added to finish the show as a feature film with a runtime as long as 90 minutes that would give big international productions a run for their money at festivals like Cannes.
“I think I need to meet with my team and decide, do we want to go forward and compete at the big leagues? Or do we stop, and then release what we have,” he said. “But it’s a decision I feel like we’ll make.”
Most likely, Bhatt said the motivational drive to keep going after making it so far will persuade the cast and crew to get behind the pivot to a feature film.
“It could be a cult classic,” he said.
Asked what he thought winning the awards — with potentially plenty more to come — might represent for Pipe Nation’s future prospects, he said, “I think it will re-open conversations with networks, buyers and distributors. And that’s the key.”
But although standing tall, his team largely stands alone.
“We don’t have a distributor or the backing of a major studio,” he said.
“We’re crushing it at these independent festivals. We can compete at the Tribeca or the Cannes, or the Toronto film festivals — if we have the support,” he said.
“We need the community support in order to compete on the higher level.”