‘Wise’ festival founder mourned

Jack McLachlan, Founder of the White Rock Social Justice Film Society, passed away on Christmas Day.  - Contributed photo
Jack McLachlan, Founder of the White Rock Social Justice Film Society, passed away on Christmas Day.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Members of the White Rock Social Justice Film Society are mourning the loss of their “gentle giant.”

Jack McLachlan, who founded the film festival in 2005 with Jean Kromm and members of the First United Church, passed away on Christmas Day from cancer.

Up until the final stages of his illness, McLachlan, 85, was one of the directors for the society, which was established from a need to counter the silence and misinformation by governments and the mainstream media about the social injustices affecting people locally and globally, friend and society member Eileen Spencer said.

“He was always a quietly spoken and gentle giant in our midst,” she said. “We all loved his wry humour and wise guidance.”

The society has come a long way since McLachlan first began working on bringing the film festival to White Rock.

After hearing that film festivals were receiving positive response on Vancouver Island, McLachlan, who previously owned a theatre in Manitoba, approached the Courtney-based group which organized the festivals about bringing it to his community.

“They needed $500 plus 35 workers to come. On top of this, there wasn’t a place where I could put it on. I was reluctant to approach the church, as it would be seen by the community as a subtle way of increasing church membership. It is an assessment that is still true today, and I have had to stand against such pressures from the church,” McLachlan wrote in a 2005 autobiography, Barefoot on the Prairies. “I saw the focus as social justice, pure and simple, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Despite his initial reservations, McLachlan approached First United Church, which was able to procure $2,000 from the Van Dusen Fund to get the society started.

By 2010, the average turnout for the monthly showings was approximately 500 people, McLachlan wrote in his autobiography, noting that he also played a role in establishing similar festivals in Agassiz and Chilliwack.

“People are finding, to their astonishment, that there is a wealth of information out there that is deliberately avoided by the mainstream media, and the beat goes on,” he wrote.

Despite the loss of McLachlan at the helm of the festival, Spencer noted that as the festivals’ popularity grew, so did the crew of people who organize it, including new directors who were usually recruited personally by McLachlan.

Because of the strong foundation McLachlan helped to establish, the film festival will continue to run in the years to come, and will soon celebrate a milestone 10 years, Spencer said.

On Jan. 31, the society will hold a screening of the film, Bidder 70, which depicts the story of a brave young activist who risks himself on behalf of the environment – a fitting tribute to McLachlan, Spencer said.

“Jack also influenced many with his inspiring dedication to social justice and never wavered in his efforts to disseminate this both locally and globally,” she said. “He will continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

A service will be held for McLachlan Saturday at First United Church, 15385 Semiahmoo Ave., at 1 p.m.

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