Just Film Festival showcases intriguing and inspiring Langara student films

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      Around noon today, I dropped by the Just Film Festival at the Vancity Theatre to check out two documentaries by Langara College students.

      The first, a 10-minute short called "On Crows", offered deep insights into the empathetic behaviour of these feathered creatures. Director Mariah Kennedy featured plenty of footage of Vancouver birdman extraordinaire, Shawn Bergman, communing with his pal, Canuck the crow. It was astonishing watching Bergman chatter away as the crow sat on his arm.

      The second film, "Lucila", was an emotionally charged look at Argentinian ballerina Lucila Munaretto's amazing recovery from a devastating 2015 rollerblading accident in North Vancouver. Directed by Amy Psyden, it shows how Munaretto picked herself up from this near-fatal tragedy to resume dancing and continue smiling while savouring all that life has to offer. It's a truly inspirational story and kudos to Coastal City Ballet for its supporting role.

      In the lobby outside the theatre, I ran into Don Wright, the long-time regional activism coordinator of Amnesty International, which is one of the partners who put on the Just Film Festival. Its mandate is to provide a forum for Vancouver's social-justice community to watch films that stimulate discussion and prompt action.

      The Just Film Festival was launched last year after CoDevelopment Canada and Amnesty International decided to work together with Village Vancouver to show films showcasing important human-rights issues rather than running separate festivals.

      Below, you can read a quick interview I conducted with Wright about the history of the former Amnesty fest and its collaboration with CoDevelopment Canada and Village Vancouver.

      Georgia Straight: How did the Just Film Festival come about?

      Don Wright: Amnesty International was one of the first groups to have a film festival strictly on human-rights issues back in 1986. The first festival was at the planetarium. Then it moved to Pacific Cinematheque (now the Cinametheque). Then it moved to Vancity Theatre as a new theatre on the block. We then ran one year at SFU Harbour Centre and a couple of years at the Vancouver Public Library in the big room downstairs in order to cut our costs and make it open for more people. We made it a free festival. About that same time, for many years, CoDevelopment Canada had been running the World Community Festival. They decided they needed some partners involved with them, so we joined them along with Village Vancouver and some other groups to rebrand it as the Just Film Festival. It was two years ago that we did that. So this is our second one as the rebranded partnership Just Film Festival. With this year, we did our own programming. It's also our second year in the Vancity Theatre. We love this space for this festival. It does make a real difference to be in a real theatre with proper seats, and so on, and popcorn available. We had a really good attendance Thursday night and Friday night. And we already have good presales for tonight. Saturday afternoon is always a tough sell, especially when the sun just came out. Some people don't want to come into a dark room, even if it's a very compelling film, which they all are.

      Georgia Straight: Can you talk about how the collaboration works?

      Don Wright: We work very closely with CoDevelopment Canada and Village Vancouver. All three of us are on the working group. It has a fair bit of influence from CoDevelopment Canada. They're the lead partner. And we're very supportive in that role bringing our experience doing film festivals into the planning. We took on responsibility for all the social media this year. That's something we could bring as a strength to this festival along with suggestions around programming and, of course, our members being made aware and coming out to the festival.

      Georgia Straight: How long have you been with Amnesty International?

      Don Wright: I've been with Amnesty 16 years as a staff years. Probably 15 years before that as a member, an activist, organizing a group and doing a few protests, lots of letter writing, and so on. I'm the regional activism coordinator. I work with our members and groups throughout western Canada. Mostly I'm in Vancouver and I do occasionally do a tour through Alberta and Saskatchewan. I've been up to Yukon a couple of times, and throughout the province, of course, quite a bit as well.

      Georgia Straight: Do you have any favourite films at festival?

      Don Wright: There are a couple of them I haven't seen yet. I'm really looking forward to Mali Blues, partly because I'm a big fan of the blues and I'm interested in how this film talks about music as resistance to the authoritarian regime there. It's just in the news the last couple of days around whether Canada will or will not support peacekeeping that area. There's a very fragile peace now.

      Georgia Straight: Will Amnesty play any role in the upcoming provincial election?

      Don Wright: Yes, we're about to release an open letter. This will be referring to things like Site C and the Mount Polley spill and the lack of any kind of justice around that. There needs to be more support for women's services: shelters, transition houses, and so on. So I think that comes out on Monday (April 3).

      The Just Film Festival concludes at the Vancity Theatre on Saturday (April 1) with Mali Blues at 7 p.m., the short Langara student film "Human Rules" at 9:45 p.m., and Queen of Ireland at 9:55 p.m.