Asking where French peasant farmers, Canadian mining companies, and a female taxi driver meet could sound like the beginning of a joke, but not for everyone. For some Winnipeggers, all of these diverse people came together at the 2016 Global Justice Film Festival on Nov. 4 and 5, 2016.
The festival began on Friday with a very short film called There You Go, which asked the question of what happens when well-meaning people force the “benefits” of development on others.
That film was followed by Driving with Selvi, a documentary about India’s first female taxi driver, who left an abusive marriage to make a life for herself behind the wheel.
Saturday’s films covered a range of topics, from the Uyghurs of China to the Athabasca Tar Sands of Alberta and the death of the American dream.
With three films running concurrently in almost every time slot, viewers had to make difficult decisions about where to go and what to see, but with the quality of films available, they were sure to find something both educational and personally challenging.
Many of the documentaries at the Global Justice Film Festival dealt with difficult themes, such as growing global inequality or the struggle of dealing with past traumas, but the stories were inspiring rather than hopeless.
Participants might have been overwhelmed by hearing about the Chinese government’s practice of harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners, or the story of Canada’s missing or murdered Indigenous women, but they also heard about what can happen when people bring about change.
A common thread running through many of the films was the power of women to resist stereotypes and to bring change to, or at least challenge, prevailing ideas.
Whether it was a Cairo street artist in Nefertiti’s Daughters painting the Arabic word “la” (“no”) to support freedom and respect for others in Egypt, or the Knitting Nannas campaigning against the coal industry in Australia, empowered and active women were very much present in the films at this year’s festival.
Food, including where it comes from and who farms it, was another theme at the festival. Films in this category included The Hand That Feeds, a story about the struggles of undocumented workers in New York’s restaurant industry and how the Occupy movement attempted to deal with their injustices.
Food Chains discussed poorly-paid farm labour, while After Winter, Spring “reveals the human story of family farming at a turning point in history” through the stories of traditional French farmers.
Requiem for the American Dream was different from many of the other films in that it was essentially a lecture by the well-known intellectual Noam Chomsky, but it was equally compelling and incisive in its analysis of the rise of inequality in North America and around the world. According to Chomsky, this inequality has not happened by chance or through inadvertence but has rather been part of a deliberate campaign to transfer wealth to the elite while bringing about the “swan song of functioning democracy.”
This year’s Global Justice Film Festival dealt with many difficult issues, but the mood of the audience members was not gloomy or despairing. Rather, hearing about the many injustices in the world seemed to energize them to bring about change in their own communities and to advocate for new forms of solidarity among people and accountability from leaders.
If even a few of the audience members translate their new knowledge into action, who knows what might happen?