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Still taken from the movie Sockeye Salmon. Red Fish (2020). // Photo courtesy of Dmitriy Shpilenok.

Social justice films made available online by the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival

By Cristina Paolozzi, November 17 2020—

The Marda Loop Justice Film Festival will be taking place until from Nov. 16–22, bringing films about human rights, the environment and other social justice issues to light.

The Marda Loop Justice Film Festival has been taking place for the past 15 years, however, this year as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has moved to an online platform. This ensures that audiences will still be able to engage with meaningful films, while also respecting and adhering to the Alberta Health Services guidelines.

There are seven films being shown, one for every day of the week. The first film titled Safe Haven is directed by Lisa Molomot and follows the story of U.S. war resisters who seek refuge in Canada, exposing the realities of the welcoming nature Canada often portrays. Renato Barbieri’s film titled Servitude will be shown on Nov. 17, and details the ongoing issue of contemporary slavery in Brazil, and Dmitriy Shpilenok and Vladislav Grishin’s film Sockeye Salmon, Red Fish examines overfishing within the salmon industry and will be shown Nov. 18.

From Durban To Tomorrow is Dylan Mohan Grey’s film which will be shown on Nov. 19 and outlines the journeys of five universal healthcare advocates, and Nov. 20 will have Spencer Wilkinson’s film Alice Street which will discuss how residents and artists in Oakland rally to protest increasing gentrification within their community. Nov. 21 and 22 will show Janette A. López’s film Never Going Back, and María Lobo and Roi Guitián’s film Indebted to All Women, respectively. Never Going Back explores the journey one family makes from Honduras to their new life in Mexico, and Indebted to All Women follows the efforts of many women in El Salvador to change the strict abortion laws that are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. After the screening of each of these films, there will be a pre-recorded interview with the filmmaker or subject matter expert, which replaces the usual Q&A session that followed in years previous. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, executive director of the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, Jennifer Ewen, spoke more about what the film festival attempts to bring to the Calgary community, and the way that they have adapted the festival amidst the global pandemic. 

Ewen says that the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival started 15 years ago by a group of teachers in the neighbourhood of Marda Loop, hence the name. These teachers were all members of the same church — River Park Church — which usually served as the venue for the main festival.

“The teachers got together and decided that there was a need in Calgary for an event or festival that would highlight social and environmental justice issues from around the world,” explained Ewen. “They started off with two or three days in the very beginning of just a few films, and it kind of grew from there. From a two- or three-day festival, it has grown into a seven-day festival. We have post-film guest speakers, often the filmmakers themselves or local topic experts that come and have a conversation with the audience after the film so that the audience can ask questions about whatever the topic of the film is.” 

Ewen explains that in a typical November festival, there would be anywhere between 15–20 films across several different venues.

“This year, with COVID, we’ve moved to an online format,” she says. Ewen says that, this year, viewers can expect “having one film per day, that has a six-hour viewing window.” Viewers can pre-register for tickets — which remain free — and can watch the film online. As well, Ewen noted that “instead of having a post-film Q&A […] we are having guest speakers pre-record themselves answering questions.” 

Ewen details the way in which the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival chooses the films they show by using the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals as their framework. This framework is used “to kind of classify what the themes are within the films.

“Each film will have at least one, and sometimes more, sustainable development goals attached to it, and all of those are listed on our website, along with the film,” she said. “It can be anything from poverty, clean water, anything having to do with environmental justice, pollution and food security.” 

Sneak peek for the 2020 Marda Loop Justice Film Festival. // Video courtesy of Marda Loop Justice Film Festival/YouTube.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ewen reveals that the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, “had to make the tough decision to reduce the number of films shown.” Ewen states that this was largely because adapting to the challenges of the pandemic has been a new struggle the festival has had to deal with, and that they are mostly volunteer-run. 

Being able to manage the technology of putting a whole festival online has also been a new challenge Ewen and her team has had to become accustomed to, in addition to what was a sudden switch of format.

“Normally, we would hit the ground running as soon as the films are chosen in June, and because of the virus, our AGM got postponed, and all planning was kind of put on hold. We didn’t know what was going to be happening in November, so we had to make these plans in the summer.”

Ewen also laments the loss of the Festival’s Peace Village, which is a global market information space which is attached to the festival, where Ewen says, “we invite local vendors that can sell their ethically sourced or sustainably produced wares or provide information often on topics that these films represent. Filmgoers would usually go around, ask questions and talk to the vendors, and of course this year we had to cancel that.” 

Ewen highlights the unique and meaningful nature of “the give-and-take format between the guest speakers and the audience,” and that having to change this aspect of the festival is “a bit of a loss this year.”

“The pre-recorded interviews, although they’re wonderful, is not the same because it’s not audience-driven,” she says. “But at least we’re doing it!”

As many members of Calgary’s arts community continue to face uncertainty as COVID restrictions ramp up in anticipation of the rising cases province-wide, Ewen is thankful that her team pulled something off.

“We realized pretty quickly that if we didn’t go virtual, we’d be going dark.” 

Ewen notes that events like the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival are still important to the community, as it not only serves as a place to promote community, but also to promote awareness to pressing issues that are still present in our world.

“Regardless of elections, regardless of hurricanes, regardless of viruses, social and environmental justice continue on in the world. Although everybody is prioritizing and buckling down in their own local bubbles right now, it is still really important to realize that there are still big issues in the world that need resolving, and the only way to get people engaged is to inform them about them.”   

Ewen also expressed her gratitude for the team that she works alongside, as well as the community of individuals who support local events such as this one.

“Like any organization, especially volunteer ones, we’re like a little family. It’s a tight-knit, close group and I certainly couldn’t do my job without these people. I have a lot of gratitude towards them.”

Being able to look back at the progress made, and being able to show, “that people still care and still want to work together cooperatively to pull off something like this,” is what Ewen is most looking forward to at this year’s festival. 

The Marda Loop Justice Film Festival will be taking place from Nov. 16-22. Be sure to grab your tickets online and take a look at the lineup of films being shown this year. Films can be watched anytime on the scheduled evening between 5:30 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.          

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