Coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico greet the rainy months between May and September with a mix of hope and trepidation. Consistent rainfall is vital to their crops, but too much water makes their rural dirt roads impassable. The price of beans and corn goes up, just when income from the coffee harvest is depleted. These are “los meses flacos,” or the thin months, when families make ends meet by eating less, eating cheaper foods, and/or borrowing against their future. This film reinforces the fact that our choices for coffee purchase matter. Fair and direct trade makes a difference during the “thin months”.
Times have changed on the BC coast. With fewer fish and smaller trees, both animals and people are trying to adapt. For a large majority of British Columbians, killing bears for trophies no longer fits with modern values of stewardship and sustainability. Across the province, 87% of citizens agree: it’s time to end the trophy hunt for bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. Even more, 92%, say hunters should respect First Nations laws and customs when on First Nations territory. Now nine First Nations on the coast have decided to take the lead. Bear Witness gives first-hand accounts of some of the reasons.
Working as a videographer at weddings in Casablanca, Khadija Harrad is part of the new generation of young, divorced Moroccan women seeking to realize their desires for freedom and independence while honouring their families’ wishes. Mother of an 11-year-old son and primary breadwinner for her parents and siblings, she navigates daily between the elaborate fantasy world of the parties she films and the harassment from her traditionally conservative family, which disapproves of her occupation and wants her to remarry. Camera Woman, shot in vérité style, follows Khadija on the job, at home, and with supportive women friends who are divorced and share similar experiences. As it unveils the issues that confront working-class Muslim women in societies now undergoing profound change, this film reveals that for Khadija, the camera becomes a liberating force. World View Award, IDFA
An intricate tale of ‘medicine, monopoly and malice’, Fire in the Blood tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments aggressively blocked access to low-cost AIDS drugs for the countries of Africa and the global south in the years after 1996, causing ten million or more unnecessary deaths. It also features the improbable group of people who fought back. Shot on four continents, Fire in the Blood is the untold story of the remarkable coalition which came together to stop ‘the crime of the century’ and save millions of lives in the process. This story is by no means over; the real fight for access to life-saving medicine is just beginning.
Gold Fever witnesses the arrival of Goldcorp, Inc. (based in Vancouver) to a remote Guatemalan village. 500 years after the conquistadors invaded and still reeling from decades of US-backed repression, the Mayans of San Miguel Ixtahuacan find themselves on the front lines of an increasingly globalized world. Together with members of their divided community, and in the face of grave consequences, Diodora, Crisanta and Gregoria resist the threat to their ancestral lands. This hard-hitting film exposes the impacts of destructive transnational mining operations and how our Canadian Pension Plan investments are implicated. Rigoberta Menchú Grand Prix; 2013 Montreal First Peoples Festival
Hawaii: Message in the Waves looks at some of the environmental challenges facing the people and wildlife of the Hawaiian Islands. These islands represent a microcosm of the planet. Some of the formerly pristine beaches are now covered with plastic waste, an increasing and persistent threat. With beautiful cinematography, this film tells the story of the animals that make the Hawaiian surf their home, and the remarkable people who work to protect them. Three young people; a free diver, a native Hawaiian and a surfer/musician are passionate about doing what they can to heal and protect the earth. The magnificent waves that crash on the beaches carry a message. It is becoming increasingly clear that the oceans, not just around Hawaii but the world over, are in peril.
Inocente is both a timeless story about the transformative power of art and a timely snapshot of the new face of homelessness in America; children. At 15, Inocente refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be thwarted by her life as an undocumented immigrant living homeless for the last nine years. Colour is her personal revolution and its extraordinary sweep on her canvases creates a world that looks nothing like her own world. Her past is punctuated by a father deported for domestic abuse, an alcoholic and defeated mother of four and an endless shuffle through San Diego’s homeless shelters under threats of deportation. Despite this history, Inocente envisions a world transformed. Her talent has finally been noticed, and she has an opportunity to put on her first art show. The hope in Inocente’s story proves that the hand she has been dealt does not define her; her dreams do. Numerous Awards including Best Short Documentary, 2013 Academy Awards
As food prices rise, agribusiness has started to move into Africa in search of big profits and stable food supplies. Land Rush tells the story of a Malian farming community’s struggle to save itself from an onslaught of land-grabbing foreign agro-investors. From U.S. sugar cane growers to Chinese and Saudi Arabian producers, Mali is awash with foreign investors working hand-in-hand with the Malian government. But peasant leaders are determined to protect the rights of small-scale subsistence farmers who stand to lose out in these deals. The documentary follows American sugar developer, Mima Nedelcovych’s Sosumar scheme - a $600 million partnership between the government of Mali to lease 200-square kilometres of prime agricultural land for a plantation and a factory. Many Malian peasants see this as yet another manifestation of imperialism. The scheme is highly controversial and a military coup changes everything.
Last Chance tells the compelling stories of five asylum seekers who flee their native countries of Jamaica, Colombia, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon to escape homophobic violence. They face hurdles integrating into Canada, fear deportation and anxiously await decisions that will change their lives forever. The 1951 UN convention on refugees, signed by Canada, obliges us to the commitment we made that “we will not return someone to persecution”. How well are we living up to that obligation?
In the mid 1950s, lured by false promises of a better life, Inuit families were displaced by the Canadian government and left to their own devices in the Far North. This was part of a government plan to secure Arctic sovereignty. In this icy desert realm, five year old Martha Flaherty and her family lived through one of Canadian history’s most sombre and little-known episodes. Once again, the stories of survival are inspiring while illuminating the mistreatment of First Nations people of Canada.
Seeds of Freedom charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity-rich farming systems across the world, to being transformed into a powerful commodity, used to monopolise the global food system. The film highlights the extent to which the industrial agricultural system, and genetically modified (GM) seeds in particular, goes hand in hand with loss of biodiversity and related knowledge; the loss of cultural traditions and practices; the loss of livelihoods; and the loss of food sovereignty. Seeds of Freedom challenges the mantra, promoted by the pro-GM lobby, that large-scale, industrial agriculture is the only means by which we can feed the world. It shows how small-scale farmers feed 70% of the world, using less land and water. They protect the soil, and their practices lead to more crop resilience as the climate changes.
Solar Mamas is a film about the heroic efforts of one woman as she overcomes significant difficulties to become a solar engineer. The film follows Rafea, the second wife of a Bedouin in Jordan, who wants a better life for herself and her children. The Barefoot College takes uneducated women from poor communities around the world and trains them to become solar engineers to create power and jobs in their communities. The film shows their lives on the campus and how learning about electrical components and soldering without being able to read, write, or understand English is the easy part. Harder to negotiate is the pressure from Rafea’s patriarchal, unemployed husband who demands that she return home.
STAND is a surf and Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) film focused on the west coast of BC, and on what is at stake with the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route. The film follows expedition stand-up paddler, Norm Hann, as he travels the length of Haida Gwaii, a group of Bella Bella students building their own wooden SUPs, and West Coast surfer, Raph Bruhwiler.
With a pipeline proposal, some people talk about what will be gained, but shouldn’t we be asking, ‘What do we stand to lose?’ This film is a hauntingly beautiful examination of the people and culture of the Great Bear Rainforest and the lives of those committed to defending its fragile ecosystems and fjords, one paddle stroke at a time. Stunning cinematography! Best Film, Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films
Sweet Dreams follows the story of Rwandan women empowering themselves, forming the first ever female drumming troupe and an ice cream business; both were previously unheard of in Rwanda. This film focuses upon the hopes and challenges of a post-conflict society. A group of 60 women pound out rhythms of power in the drumming group, Ingoma Nshya (New Dreams). For the women (orphans, widows, wives and children of perpetrators and victims alike) the group has been a place to begin to live again, to build new relationships and to heal the wounds of the past. The drumming, singing and dancing is pure joy; yet the struggle to survive and provide for their families still persists. When the group decides to partner with two young American entrepreneurs of Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream, and open Rwanda’s first ever ice cream shop, these remarkable Rwandan women embark on a journey of independence, peace and possibility. Sweet Dreams interweaves intimate, difficult stories from the past with joyous and powerful music to present a moving portrait of a country in transition. Filmmaker, Lisa Fruchtman says “The film is about healing through art and enterprise.” Best Documentary, Festival de Cine Mujer DOC; Audience Award, IDFA
The Light Bulb Conspiracy uncovers how planned obsolescence has shaped our lives and economy since the 1920s when manufacturers deliberately started shortening the life of consumer products to increase demand. The film profiles several well-known historical advocates, including Bernard London, who famously proposed ending the Great Depression by mandating planned obsolescence, and Brook Stevens, whose post-war ideas became the gospel of the 1950s and helped shape the throwaway consumer society of today.
The Light Bulb Conspiracy also looks at modern examples of planned obsolescence, including computer printers and the controversy over the inability to replace iPod batteries. Environmental consequences are seen most dramatically in massive amounts of electronic waste. The film also features a new generation of consumers, designers and business people who have started challenging planned obsolescence as an unsustainable economic driver.
The People and the Olive is an inspiring film about the daily struggles and joys of Palestinian olive farmers. When a group of American ultra-marathoners sets out to run 129 miles in 5 days across the West Bank, they discover that in replanting uprooted olive trees, they are planting hope and building cultural bridges. The People and the Olive was filmed during the The Run Across Palestine in February 2012, as a project of the Michigan-based nonprofit group, On the Ground, which works to support sustainable community development in farming regions across the world. The run was supported by the Palestine Fair Trade Association, a collective of over 2500 small-scale farmers in the West Bank who have embraced fair trade practices to sustain their future and to sell their products worldwide. The runners faced many barriers in the endeavor, barriers that represented a microcosm of what their Palestinian friends face every day. Along the way, they forged deep bonds with their hosts while witnessing the harsh political reality and beauty of life in the West Bank. It’s an uplifting story about connecting people on the human level.
Where do multinationals pay taxes and how much? Gaining insight from international tax experts, Meerman takes a look at tax havens, the people who live there and the ways they avoid taxes globally. Those schemes go by names like ‘Cayman Special’, ‘Double Irish’, and ‘Dutch Sandwich’. A financial world operates in the shadows surrounded by a high level of secrecy. While governments claim they cannot afford social programs, the super rich are using every possible loophole to avoid paying their fair share. The Tax Free Tour is an economic thriller mapping the systemic risk for governments and citizens alike. Is this the price we have to pay for globalized capitalism?
In a Bombay hotel, 20 hand-picked contestants for the Miss India pageant arrive for a month-long beauty boot camp. Winning the title means instant stardom, a lucrative career and, for some, freedom from the constraints of a patriarchal society. Hindu fundamentalists view pageants as immoral and a symbol of Westernization. We visit a camp for young girls run by the Durgha Vahini, the women’s wing of the militant fundamentalist movement. Through lectures and physical combat training, the girls learn how to fight against Islam, Christianity and Western influences by any means necessary. The World Before Her creates a lively, provocative portrait of the world’s largest democracy at a critical transitional moment. These young women represent opposing extremes but they share a common dream: to help shape the future of India. Best Canadian Feature, HotDocs
Choreographer Allison Orr finds beauty and grace in garbage trucks, and in the unseen men and women who pick up our trash. Orr’s work challenges audiences to expand notions of dance and performance. The film follows Orr as she rides along with Austin, Texas sanitation workers on their daily routes to observe and later convince them to perform a most unlikely spectacle. On an abandoned airport runway, two dozen trash collectors and their trucks deliver — for one night only — a stunningly beautiful and moving performance in front of an audience of thousands. This thoughtful, eloquent documentary illuminates the reality that all work matters and has dignity, no matter the invisibility of the labour. Audience Award, Silverdocs; Audience Award, Full Frame Film Festival; Special Jury Award, South By Southwest
In Colombia’s war-torn indigenous villages, three brave women from distinct tribes use nonviolent resistance to defend their peoples’ survival. Warfare between the guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and armed forces imperils Colombia’s 102 aboriginal groups, dozens of which face extinction because of the conflict. Trapped in a protracted predicament that is fueled by the drug trade, native women are resourcefully leading and creating transformation imbued with hope. We Women Warriors bears witness to neglected human rights catastrophes and interweaves character-driven stories about female empowerment, unshakable courage, and faith in the endurance of indigenous culture.