Vancouver films at DOXA film fest highlight culture, identity

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      Can the adopted Chinese daughter of a Caucasian lesbian couple become a Jew? What about a black rapper?

      Vancouver director Alan Goldman encountered such questions as he sought to define what a Jewish person is while making the documentary Who the Jew Are You? His film is one of two features by Vancouver filmmakers that will be screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

      Watch the trailer for "Presidio Modelo", one of the films by Vancouver filmmakers at this year's DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

      Originally, Goldman—who will been in attendance at his film’s screening on Monday (May 25, 7 p.m., Vancity Theatre)—planned to make a film about a California Jewish group called Generation J. But his plans changed when his non-Jewish wife gave birth to their son. Goldman says by phone, “I was thinking, ”˜Oh my God, I’ve put this being into the world and now I’m going to raise him, but I’m living in this mixed situation. What do I do?’ ”

      Initially, he felt he had “let the Jewish people down” by not having a child with a Jewish woman. “I realized that was the most ridiculous thing to feel after making the film,” he says, “that I should be proud of the beautiful son I have.”

      As Goldman points out, these issues aren’t exclusive to the Jewish community. “We’re all facing these problems in a way.”¦We’re all mixing in together and we gotta realize that we have to respect each other, respect each other’s heritage. We have to figure out a way to create something new.”

      An example of “something new” is Kwí¬kwí¨xwelhp, a minimum-security prisoner-rehabilitation institution located 140 kilometres east of Vancouver that’s a collaboration between the Chehalis Nation and the Correctional Service of Canada. Hugh Brody’s The Meaning of Life (May 24, 4:30 p.m., Vancity Theatre, with Brody in attendance) takes a look at how aboriginal culture, spirituality, and teachings are helping participants in this innovative program.

      Brody was pleasantly surprised by how articulate and eager the interviewees—who, he says, never get the chance to be heard—were, filling up 90 hours of footage. “The men who were most enthusiastic about the program,” he adds, “were very concerned that others don’t understand what its strengths were. I think that especially applies to the people of Chehalis, who were not inmates or prisoners but who work on the program.”

      Most of the prisoners in the film mention that they coped with childhood hardships like abuse by becoming emotionally detached, something they say is often reinforced by prison life. A much-loved elder in the program known as Grandma says she helps them to regain the capacity to feel again; many of the film’s interviewees express deep regret and remorse for their criminal actions.

      “Making the film changed me,” Brody says. “It made me appreciate how crucial it is to listen, even to those one might be disposed least to listen to, and how important forgiveness is within a justice system. You can’t have a justice system without a possibility of redemption and forgiveness.”

      Elsewhere at DOXA (which has expanded its run from six to 10 days this year), The Art of the Short Documentary (May 24, 2 p.m., Vancity Theatre, with filmmakers in attendance) includes three shorts by local filmmakers among its eight films: Eric Morrison’s “Le Parkour” features interviews with four practitioners of the physical activity that involves scaling urban environments with grace and skill; Terry Stone’s “Virtuoso” profiles Vancouverite Kamil Nasr, who is reviving the theremin, one of the earliest electronic musical instruments; and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa’s “Presidio Modelo” is a reflection on the decay of a Panopticon-designed Cuban prison.