Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Film festival 2024 features voices of dissent

By STEVE MARTINDALE

For SALT SPRING FILM FESTIVAL SOCIETY

Salt Spring has long been a refuge for dissenting voices, welcoming American draft resisters who refused to comply with mandatory military conscription, alternative health practitioners who question Western medicine, and bohemian writers and artists who challenge the status quo.

Many of the documentaries at this year’s Salt Spring Film Festival feature such voices of resistance, shining the spotlight on courageous people from around the world standing up to oppressive regimes, Canadians from across the country speaking out on issues that affect us all, and descendants of European settlers here on the Southern Gulf Islands finding new ways to be in relationship with Indigenous peoples.

The very recent death of Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison makes Evgeny Afineevsky’s Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom essential viewing, amplifying the voices of journalists, clergy and ordinary citizens resisting Putin’s morally indefensible invasion and bombardment of Ukraine. Another global conflict currently on everyone’s mind is the focus of Guy Davidi’s devastating film Innocence, in which principled young Israelis resist mandatory military conscription and pay the price for refusing to participate in state violence against Palestinians.

Dissenting voices from within a particular community are also heard in Sharon Roggio’s fascinating documentary 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted Culture, in which outspoken evangelical Christians question their faith’s longstanding condemnation of homosexuality. Conventional attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender norms are also upended in Vancouver filmmaker Ali Grant’s Not Quite That, a layered exploration of butch lesbians and body image; Tünde Skovrán’s eye-opening Who I Am Not, featuring courageous South African intersex activists; and Jennifer Markowitz’s joyful Summer Qamp, celebrating an Alberta refuge for trans and non-binary teenagers.

Gender issues are also front and center in the upbeat Breaking the News, directed by Heather Courtney, Princess A. Hairston and Chelsea Hernandez, in which a feisty group of women launch a national news service amplifying marginalized voices; and two films on reproductive rights: Tracy Droz Tragos’s very topical Plan C, in which a grassroots collective reacts to the overturning of Roe v. Wade by quietly shipping abortion pills across state lines during the pandemic; and Eliza Capai’s deeply moving Incompatible with Life, in which women denied reproductive options are forced to carry non-viable foetuses to term in Brazil, where abortion is almost always illegal.

Women’s rights are nowhere more starkly addressed than in Steffi Niederzoll’s enraging Seven Winters in Tehran, in which 19-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari – sentenced to death for killing the man who tried to rape her – becomes an international symbol of resistance for refusing to be silenced by Iran’s repressive, patriarchal theocracy. Another fearless woman who becomes an international symbol of resistance, Tanja Nijmeijer – a Dutch citizen who joins the FARC guerrillas to fight the Colombian government and improbably emerges from the jungle as a key negotiator in ending Latin America’s longest-running civil war – is profiled in Marcel Mettelsiefen’s truly astonishing Tanja: Up in Arms.

Environmental activists who stand up and speak out on behalf of the planet are featured in Boil Alert, directed by Stevie Salas and James Burns, in which Mohawk journalist Layla Staats uncovers the personal stories behind the monumental battles for safe drinking water in First Nations communities; Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s Common Ground, an exposé on the harms of industrial agriculture which unveils the powerful potential of regenerative farming; Matthieu Rytz’s Deep Rising, about the risk posed to deep ocean ecosystems as we transition away from fossil fuels; and Jérémy Mathieu’s Salmon Secrets, in which Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck from Tofino — well-known to Salt Springers for their instrumental role in Clayoquot Sound’s 1993 War in the Woods — sound the alarm on how fish farming is pushing wild salmon to the brink of extinction.

Even closer to home, Salish Sea residents reject the perpetuation of colonial injustices and work towards reconciliation between settler descendants and Indigenous people — including respect for SENĆOŦEN language revival — in two locally produced short films: Searching for SȽEW̱ÁȽ NOṈET* (peace of mind at last*), directed by Mary Anne Paré and Kenta Kikuchi from Pender Island; and ĆELÁṈENs TŦE ṮEṮÁĆES (W̱SÁNEĆ Homelands of the Southern Gulf Islands), directed by SX̱EDŦELISIYE (Renée Sampson) and Tye Swallow from Saanich.

Our relationship as Canadians to the land and its original inhabitants is also a central theme of Dianne Whelan’s 500 Days in the Wild, co-presented by Salt Spring Arts, in which she treks the entire Trans Canada Trail without the use of motorized vehicles, in a remarkable six-year, 24,000 km journey of discovery and reconciliation.

The Salt Spring Film Festival takes place at Gulf Islands Secondary School from March 1 to 3. Full festival passes, which include the opening gala on Friday, March 1, can be purchased in advance from the ArtSpring box office or online.

Tickets to the gala and other types of passes are available at the door. For more info, see saltspringfilmfestival.com.

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