Film festival a powerful event

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
March 4th, 2010

Two things can typically happen to those of us who live in small towns: we become so engrossed with our smaller world that we forget to see what is happening outside of our area, and we often feel left out when it comes to cultural events. Last weekend the No Boundaries Film Club brought answers to both these problems with the Travelling World Community Film Festival.

The festival offers documentary films features documentaries on social justice and environmental issues set around the world and across the street. The focus of the festival is to motivate the audience to action through awareness of issues both local and global. Communities in Resistance was the inspirational theme of this year’s ninth annual World Community Film Festival. Around the world, communities are uniting to build better ways of life – movements that were reflected in many of the films in this year’s festival.

This was evident throughout the weekend’s films that aired Feb. 26 – March 4 in Grand Forks. The organizers did their best to sort through which films to feature and that was no small task. The environmental issues, and the overwhelming theme of communities rising up to protect their towns, countries, and people hit home with a thud. Although this year’s audience was small, probably competing with the Olympics and our early spring, the festival was a success.

I was limited in what I could take in, but I had to say that the few I was able to see were well worth it. Under Rich Earth is a story about ordinary people with extraordinary courage. In a remote mountain valley in Ecuador, coffee and sugarcane farmers face the dismal prospect of being forced off their land to make way for a Canadian mining project. The issue creates division between those hoping the project will create jobs and those who feel it will destroy the land.

Unprotected by the police and ignored by their government, local activists faced down the invaders on their own. Their resistance ultimately leads to a remarkable and dangerous stand off between farmers and a band of armed paramilitaries deep in the cloud forest. The role of the video camera cannot be underestimated in the outcome.

The value of video coverage in the news media was the main topic of Burma VJ. In a country where news is not allowed and foreign media are liable to be killed, a group of citizen video journalists (VJ) set up a network to inform their own people about news in their country. Though risking torture and life in jail, courageous young citizens of Burma live the essence of journalism as they insist on keeping up the flow of news from their closed country.

Armed with small handycams, the Burma VJs stop at nothing to make their reportages from the streets of Rangoon. Their material is smuggled out of the country and broadcast back into Burma via satellite and offered as free usage for international media. The film offers a unique insight into high-risk journalism and dissidence in a police state, while at the same time providing documentation of the historical and dramatic days of September 2007, when the Buddhist monks started marching.

When we walked out of the Burma VJ film (nominated for an Academy Award) and into the bright sun of the February day, my husband and I looked at each other and had to reflect that we are safe, no bullets are flying, and our world is good. The film was so powerful we were both nearly in tears at times.

So the next time you are feeling like your troubles are too large, or that our small town never has any good culture, reflect on these films, realize how lucky we are to live in Canada, and get out and support events that we do have since without our participation there will be no culture at all.


Categories: Op/Ed