VFF 2011 – Made in Victoria

W e know that Vancouver Island is special; that’s probably part of the reason most of us choose to live here. But it isn’t just the amazing natural beauty and the temperate climate that set it apart from other places; it’s the people that make our communities so special.

W e know that Vancouver Island is special; that’s probably part of the reason most of us choose to live here. But it isn’t just the amazing natural beauty and the temperate climate that set it apart from other places; it’s the people that make our communities so special.

We here at Monday Magazine chose to highlight three selections from the upcoming Victoria Film Festival that would appeal to our identities as Vancouver Islanders: the feature-length The Market, and two shorts from the “Contemplating Victoria” lineup, Wawaditla and Our Hero. Exploring universal themes such as morality, spirituality, family, and belonging, the directors of these films have done so through a uniquely Island lens.

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Set in Nanaimo, B.C. and Chennai, India, The Market is a feature-length documentary that explores the organ trade from the perspectives of a woman and her family in Canada looking to buy, and two sisters in India looking to sell. Ultimately, the film begs the question: how do we live and balance our needs with the moral aspect of what we’re doing?

Like many others living in the slums of Chennai, Hema is faced with extreme poverty, unemployment, and children to feed. Though the practice is illegal, a kidney can fetch the equivalent of a few years’ wages on the rampant black market, and with no other options, it is estimated that some 80 per cent of adults in Chennai have had one removed. Given her circumstances and her family’s mounting debt, Hema weighs selling her kidney.

Director Rama Rau spent years researching for the film, and says that she knew she wanted to tell the story of western kidney patients with empathy and without stereotype.

“It would have been easy to portray the rich Western ‘buyer’ and the victimized third world ‘seller,’ but I cast the character in my head as a young, single woman facing so much more than dealing with kidney disease. In my mind, I was looking for a very strong Western character to be the counterpart to the India story.”

After trolling countless blogs and Facebook pages, meeting dozens of kidney patients, and even filming some of their stories, Rau finally stumbled upon Christina’s blog called “A Kidney for my Daughter.” After some initial correspondence and a trip out from Toronto to Nanaimo, Rau knew that she had found her story with Christina’s daughter, Sandra. She asked her to be in the film.

In Canada, waiting lists for kidney transplants can be ten years long. Sandra was diagnosed in 2005 and has been waiting for a donor ever since. In the meantime, she lives debilitated by her dependence on a dialysis machine and unable to lead a normal life. Facing possible death, $50,000 for an organ from a faceless stranger sounds reasonable to Sandra’s mother who just wants her to live. Sandra, however, is not convinced.

The Market poses some very difficult questions. Even after years of researching and documenting both sides of the debate, Rau didn’t have any definite answers.

“Bioethics are nice in theory, but it’s not so black and white. Until you are actually faced with that decision, I don’t think you can know what you would do. As a mother, if I had to feed my children, I might consider it. And I’d like to say that I’d never buy a kidney, but until you have to make that choice.”

The Market is showing at the Empire Capitol 6 on Monday, February 7th at 7:15 pm, and again on Thursday, February 10th at 4:30 pm.

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Produced by visual artist Lou-ann Neel and her nephew Michael Glendale, Wawaditla was their entry for the 2006 My Victoria contest. Contestants had two days to create a short film about their favourite place in the city, and Neel and Glendale chose to chronicle the story of Wawaditla, the house that Chief Mungo Martin built at Thunderbird Park next to the Royal BC Museum. Historically, culturally, and spiritually, the house is significant.

“We have a very strong family connection to Wawaditla. Chief Mungo Martin was my great-great-uncle, and he built the house to keep the Kwakwakawa’kw culture alive,” says Neel.

Martin’s house was also the site of the first legal potlatch in 1953. From the late 1800s until 1951, it was illegal under the Indian Act to practice potlatch, and those caught participating could be imprisoned for up to six months.

“The changes to the act in 1951 meant that we could again practice our traditions and our art without fear. They held the first potlatch at Wawaditla in 1953, and it was where my grandmother and all her children, including my father, got their potlatch names.”

Neel wants the public to know that the building “is not an artifact; it’s used all the time by adults, kids, and grandkids. Because we aren’t in our traditional territory, if we didn’t have the house, we wouldn’t have as much access to potlatch culture. And the city is a busy place. It’s important for our kids to have that grounding point in the city.”

Wawaditla is screening with the feature One Big Hapa Family at the Cineplex Odeon on Saturday, Feb. 5 at 5:00 pm.

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Screening with the closing gala film, Our Hero is a short film about one of Victoria’s most beloved characters, the Reverend Allen Tysick. Directed by Krista Loughton, the film provides a brief introduction to the founding executive director of the Our Place Society and a man who has worked hard to provide the city’s homeless with nourishment, hope, family, and a place to belong.

Driven by her own desire to help those most in need, Loughton met Reverend Tysick when she started hanging out at Our Place.

“This film was made four years ago at a time when I wanted to do something spiritual. And I realized that I didn’t have to go to Africa. I just had to go downtown. Our Hero was the first documentary that I shot, filmed, and edited myself, and it was truly a labour of love.”

Originally screened in 2007, it’s timely that the film is being shown again at this year’s festival. After 20 years of service in the community, Reverend Tysick just announced his retirement this past week.

Though he will be missed, Loughton will make sure that Tysick is not forgotten. She’s currently in post-production on a full-length film about life on the streets that features the Reverend and many of the friends she’s made at Our Place. Titled Us & Them, be sure to keep an eye open for it at next year’s festival.

Our Hero is screening with the feature Small Town Murder Songs at the Cineplex Odeon on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 9:30 pm.

Three stories, each one unique