Vancouver International Women in Film Festival shows the real world

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      If you need an antidote to the men’s club otherwise known as the Oscars, the opening film of the 10th annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, running from next Wednesday (March 4) to March 8, is it.

      When it comes to diversity, Margarita, With a Straw has it in spades: it’s the story of a bisexual girl with cerebral palsy (from a cross-cultural family that includes Punjabi and Maharashtrian as well as Sikh and Hindu members) who falls in love with a blind Pakistani-Bangladeshi lesbian activist.

      But don’t think that this is a politically correct effort. Filmmaker Shonali Bose told the Straight that she simply wanted to show people getting on with life as it is.

      “When people take up identities, they often let themselves get bogged down with it, and I feel that’s a problem when I’m watching a film,” she said on the line from L.A. “And I would be like, ‘Free yourself up. Whatever identity it is, let’s look at the human being and not just at the identity of that human being.’ ”

      She also expressed concerns about how identity politics are handled on-screen.

      “When we see them [in film], the film is usually dealing with that problem. ‘Okay, let’s deal with being Muslim in America.’ So I was like, ‘Yeah, but you’re constantly coming across multiple identities of people and these are regular people who do all sorts of stuff.’ ”

      In fact, the filmmaker said she was inspired by real life: when a cousin with acute cerebral palsy told Bose about her desire to have sex, she began to think about the sexuality of disabled people, which often doesn’t get depicted.

      The same-sex relationship in the film is particularly timely. While Bose was shooting the film in 2013, the Supreme Court of India reinstated a colonial law criminalizing homosexuality. As the film is getting a theatrical release in India, she’s looking forward to discussing LGBT issues on TV there.

      “I’m just really happy and excited that I can bring this issue out big in the public,” she said.

      Meanwhile, another selection in the festival lineup will address a local issue. The documentary Highway of Tears takes a look at the missing and murdered women, primarily from First Nations communities, who have vanished along a section of Highway 16 in northern B.C. It’ll be followed by a panel discussion that includes Aboriginal Women’s Action Network founder Fay Blaney and Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre Society interim executive director Lillian Howard.

      Elsewhere on the program, All the Time in the World raises the question of who we’re really connecting to in our tech-saturated lives. Filmmaker Suzanne Crocker documented what happened when her family went off the grid and took up residence in the Yukon wilderness.

      In addition to other screenings, there are also pitch sessions, web-series presentations, workshops on sound design and lighting, talks, awards, and parties. For more details, visit www.womeninfilm.ca/.

      Watch the trailer for Margarita, With a Straw.

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