BY STEVE MARTINDALE
Salt Spring Film Festival Society
The Salt Spring Film Festival returns in early March after being on hiatus last year, presenting 13 new documentaries over the course of six days at ArtSpring.
This baker’s dozen of award-winning films, screening from March 1 to 6, spotlights a surprisingly wide variety of subjects: everything from extreme athletes and endurance racers, courageous women who rock — including Indigenous women determined to correct the mistakes of the past — restorative justice circles, cannabis entrepreneurship, the complexities of global finance, modernist art and design, holistic approaches to dealing with dementia, drag queens aging with unapologetic flamboyance . . . and more than one film on the very topical subject of trees.
Kicking off the festival on a high note is the rollicking Fanny: The Right to Rock, the largely forgotten story of the first-ever all-women rock band to sign a record deal with a major label, who reunite 50 years later to keep on rockin’.
Olympic snowboarder Spencer O’Brien returns to the extreme sport she loves after a debilitating diagnosis in Precious Leader Woman, reconnecting with her Indigenous culture to regain her strength in this thrilling tale of perseverance and personal reawakening.
An unusual hybrid of animation and live action, A Once and Future Peace explores the use of peacemaking circles in restorative justice for young offenders and their victims; while the corrupting influence of petrodollars in kleptocracies along the Caspian Sea is the focus of The Caviar Connection; and a controversial anti-pharmaceutical approach to dealing with dementia in a Danish nursing home — known as “compassion treatment” — is the subject of the uplifting It Is Not Over Yet.
In the festival’s only double-feature, Daughter of a Lost Bird follows two generations of Indigenous women adopted away from their tribe as they make an emotional return to their Lummi homeland; and the NFB’s Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again profiles the relentless Kahnawake woman who successfully fought the federal government to challenge discrimination against Indigenous women.
Other highlights of the festival include Lady Buds, a celebration of unstoppable female entrepreneurs who created the California cannabis industry; P.S. Burn This Letter Please, a celebration of pioneering New York City drag queens; The New Bauhaus, a celebration of exiled Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy’s influential school of modernist design in Chicago; and The Race to Alaska, a celebration of the daring competitors in a daunting 750-mile non-motorized journey up the treacherous Inside Passage.
And don’t miss two very different films about trees: award-winning photojournalist Rita Leistner’s visually stunning Forest for the Trees portrays a diverse community of West Coast tree planters who restore themselves and each other in the process of restoring the environment; and My Tree, in which Toronto playwright Jason Sherman unearths disturbing truths when he travels to Israel in search of the tree planted in his name as a Bar Mitzvah gift 40 years earlier.
In focusing on courageous people mastering complex challenges — some involving the adrenaline rush of physical labour, extreme sport and intrepid adventure; others involving introspection, contemplation and communication — what emerges from this disparate collection of films is a recurring theme of displacement and reconnection. Lost birds and others in need of support reconnect to tribe and community via sacred rituals and healing circles; motley crews and ad hoc communities gather in nature to reconnect with themselves and with one another; and individuals brave enough to confront the secrets of the past reconnect present realities with long-buried memories as painful as they are illuminating.