Whistler Film Festival 2019: Canadian doc Pandora's Box puts the focus on period poverty

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      Carinne Chambers-Saini pioneered an unprecedented shift in period dialogue for two decades as CEO of Diva International, makers of the DivaCup, before spontaneously launching into a documentary project in 2017.

      The night before her keynote speech at Period.org’s inaugural conference, it dawned on Chambers-Saini to capture the historic moment. By the morning she had a production company lined up and a producer flown in from New York. As the conference concluded, they knew they had only just lifted the lid of Pandora’s Box. Over the following two years Chambers-Saini partnered with Canadian Screen award-winning director Rebecca Snow and a predominantly female production team to tackle period poverty around the world.

      “Before I started working on this film, I was totally uninformed about the issue of period poverty,” Snow admits in a media release “it’s alarming how little we know about how people are suffering through their periods for lack of better care.” 

      The crew interviews lawyers, activists, policy-makers, former inmates, mothers, and daughters on location in India, Kenya, England, and the U.S. to document the global story of period inequity and the nascent changes in cultural norms surrounding menstruation.

      “We felt to do this story justice it needed to be seen through different voices and lenses,” Chambers-Saini says over the phone to the Georgia Straight, highlighting an equal focus on developing and developed nations. “The reality is that this is really an issue right here in our own backyards.” 

      One in seven girls in Canada will leave school this week due to a lack of feminine products.33 states in America tax pads and tampons as luxury goods. Items that don’t receive the sexist tax? Cowboy boots, doughnuts, gun club memberships, and—the kicker—Viagra. 

      “How can menstruation be something that is so natural and so stigmatized?” asks Period Equity co-founder Jennifer Weiss-Wolf early on in Pandora’s Box. David Crossweller, co-founder of Sanitation First, offers an answer further into the film: “If this was an issue that affected men, it would’ve been dealt with.” 

      The issue, exactly? Egregious gaps in period resources and knowledge that exacerbate gender inequality across every strata of society. It’s more common for girls around the world to miss a week of school every month than not due to unmanaged bleeding. In extreme cases, women and children in rural communities have died when banished to “period huts”. At a basic level people who bleed feel perpetual shame for a natural and uncontrollable function of their bodies. 

      “We’re not filmmakers,” Chambers-Saini points out, “we didn’t really know much about creating a documentary.” But she cites the team’s passion for and dedication to these stories as the bedrock of the film’s success. What’s more, their inexperience transforms onscreen as open mindedness and allows interviewees to inform the film’s narrative at the thematic and creative levels. They seem to be learning alongside the audience. Their shock is our shock. 

      “The stories sort of unfolded as the film was going along,” she says. “We really invested a lot of time and energy into bringing an authentic view almost in current time.”

      The film’s timeliness in tandem with the #MeToo and fourth wave feminist movement cannot be underappreciated. The insanity of punishing the bodily function primarily responsible for bringing life into the world is a salient example of global sexism and the patriarchy’s policing of women’s bodies. Menstruation provides an accessible departure point to talk about these larger systemic issues and Pandora’s Box gets it absolutely right. 

      Pandora's Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation screens at the Village 8 Cinemas on Friday and Saturday (December 6-7). Carinne Chambers-Saini joins producer Aine Corby and director Rebecca Snow as part of the Women in Focus Case Study presentation on Pandora’s Box at the Whistler Conference Centre on Friday (December 6)