Young Haitian Wilna is featured in the documentary Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?

Young Haitian Wilna is featured in the documentary Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?

Films tackle tough issues

Festival returns for ninth year of thought-provoking documentaries

Why is it that, two years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and after generous donations from the rest of the world (close to $2 billion in the U.S. alone) some 600,000 residents were still living in squalor in tent cities?

What kind of terrain would the $5.5 billion proposed Enbridge pipeline cross, and what risks does it pose to that environment?

How did one Canadian farmer stand up to massive multinational Monsanto, which claimed he owed it money for genetically modified seed that had contaminated his land?

If your mind craves answers to these questions, rather than the sleep-inducing pablum served up by mainstream television networks, the White Rock Social Justice Film Festival may be just what you’re looking for.

The by-donation festival returns Feb. 22 and 23 with a ninth annual grouping of thought-provoking documentaries, screened at First United Church (Buena Vista Avenue and Centre Street, White Rock).

The seven films have been chosen to help inform the community, and provide support for neighbourhood action on important issues facing Canadians today.

The festival is about keeping current with the kind of information that doesn’t always find its way onto the nightly news, according to festival president Glenn Miles and board members Phil DesRosiers, Eileen Spencer and Jack MacLachlan.

While some of the information can be challenging and disturbing, they say, the event is not intended as a wallow in doom and gloom.

In the opening film, for example –  Four Horsemen (Feb. 22, 7 p.m.) – 23 international thinkers talk about how the world really works and why, against the odds, they feel there is still hope in re-establishing a moral and just society.

And, in keeping with a festival tradition, the closer finds an inspiring and upbeat note in the musical documentary Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song (Feb. 23, 7 p.m.), tracing the social activism of the world-famous performer.

There’s even inspiration in David Versus Monsanto (Feb. 23, 10 a.m.), detailing Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser’s fight in the courts challenging Monsanto’s claim that Roundup Ready canola plants found on his property were a deliberate infringement of the corporation’s patents.

The festival’s monthly single-film screenings are attracting upwards of 100 viewers, helped by the resurgence of the documentary as a film form over the past decade – these are not the documentaries of old, organizers said.

“Production values have increased quite a lot,” said Miles. “It makes communication of the ideas being presented much easier for audiences to grasp – there’s eye-appeal and sound-appeal.”

“When we first started, we were estimating we’d get 35 people,” said MacLachlan. “We had to scrape around to find documentaries. They were hard to come by and some were of iffy quality. Now they’re a lot better and we’re getting a lot more local, Canadian-made films.”

“Phil had a huge, long list of films to choose from this year,” Spencer said.

“We try to be as diverse as we can in selecting films,” said DesRosiers, who added he’s pleased that screenings are bringing in more and more young people and students.

But the numbers of older people attending are growing too, Miles said.

“People are starting to become more aware of the world situation.They’re interested in films depicting issues that the older demographic isn’t

usually jumping up and down about. They want to have some kind of idea what is going on, to fill in the big blanks left by mainstream media.”

Another feature that has helped build the audience for the festival’s monthly screenings is post-film question-and-answer sessions with qualified resource people. Sometimes they’re even the filmmakers themselves, as in the case of a recent screening in which the director joined in on Skype.

Also provoking discussion in this year’s festival will be Haiti: Where Did The Money Go? (Feb. 23, 11:30 a.m.) which asks the key question of why so much money bought so little relief from a disaster, while The Future of Medicare (Feb. 23, 2 p.m.) documents a now-famous town hall meeting calling for a renewed and strengthened federal-provincial health accord.

On The Line, (Feb. 23, 3:30 p.m.) offers unmatched eco-adventure through the wilderness, following the route of the proposed $5.5 billion Enbridge oil pipeline and Oil In Eden (Feb. 23, 4:35 p.m.) chronicles the Enbridge proposal in detail.

Admission is by donation.

For more information, visit or email Herb at

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