Supporting independent political film on campus

Cinema Politica offers broad menu of food for thought

Jennifer Gibson (left), curator of Gallery 1C03, and Lana Hastings of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, hope Cinema Politica will provoke discussion on campus. Dylan Hewlett

At the University of Winnipeg, independent film reaches audiences in a way that is unique in Manitoba.

The campus is home to Manitoba’s only chapter of the Montreal-based Cinema Politica, a non-profit network of community and campus groups screening independent political film and video by Canadian and international artists.

Cinema Politica at the University of Winnipeg is a partnership between the U of W’s Gallery 1C03 and the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association.

Jennifer Gibson, curator of Gallery 1C03, said the gallery aims to provide the campus community and the larger Winnipeg community with opportunities to view and contemplate visual art in its many forms.

That includes supporting film as a media and visual art, she said.

“Cinema Politica, one of its main motives is to promote the work of independent filmmakers - and of course filmmakers are artists as well,” she said.

Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Cinema Politica emphasizes Canadian works - especially those that tell stories underrepresented in mainstream media, including stories involving political struggles, oppression or identity politics within Canada.

For a small membership fee, member groups can choose from more than 300 films available for loan from the Cinema Politica collection. This saves members not only rental fees, but also the cost and hassle of getting public performance licensing, because CP’s films are pre-cleared for public screening.

The first series of screenings at the U of W ran in the 2009-2010 school year. A film was chosen by each of the six largest and most active student groups on campus. Last year, more student groups wanted to get involved.

“It’s a really unique opportunity for students and faculty and community members to come together and talk about a political issue from their very different backgrounds, so you have students from all different departments, and from all different interests,” said Lana Hastings, UWSA’s vice-president for student services.

For example, film students may comment on the film qualities of a documentary, while environmental studies students pick up on the film’s environmental implications.

“I think that’s what’s really exciting, and it can facilitate very interesting dialogue and especially just to get students more engaged in topics that they might not have thought of before,” Hastings said.

The latest screening, in November, was Crude Sacrifice, directed by Lawrence Carota.

Selected by the university’s Aboriginal Students’ Council, the film looks at how the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan is affected by tar sands development.

Aboriginal people in the community can no longer drink the water or eat fish and other game they have relied on for thousands of years.

Dr. Julie Pelletier, chair of the indigenous studies department, led a post-screening discussion.

Gibson said after the first year of CP films on campus, she saw a need for facilitators at the screenings, to better serve Cinema Politica’s goal of provoking discussion.

“(The) goal is to get people talking about these films as well, not just to show them and then off you go,” she said. “I thought it would be appropriate to invite either a faculty member or a community member who’s really engaged in the issues around which the film deals.”

Gibson said facilitators also add to the audience base and allow CP to reach out to more people. She emphasized that anyone can attend the screenings for free.

“We’re certainly grateful for any donations ... but they are free and open to everyone, not just students,” she said. “We do want to encourage members of the inner city community to attend as well.”

The next showing, on Feb. 16, will be Girl Inside, directed by Maya Gallus. Gallus won the 2008 Gemini Award for Best Direction in a Documentary Program for this film, which follows the journey of a young man’s transition to become female over a three-year period.

The LGBT* Centre chose the film to coincide with gender week.

Nicole Dyregrov, a co-coordinator of the centre, said the film was chosen because it is uplifting, while other films on the topic can be important but painful to watch.

On March 13, the screening will be Dive! Living Off America’s Waste, directed by Jeremy Seifert and chosen by EcoPIA as part of the Grass Routes Sustainability Festival on campus.

Dive! examines the vast amount of good food going into America’s garbage bins, and the people who salvage it. EcoPIA’s Kaeleigh Ayre said the film was chosen to fit this year’s festival theme of waste and consumer culture.

Both films screen at 6:30 p.m. in Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.

Published in Volume 66, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 18, 2012)

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