Open Cinema set to finish out ninth season with Surviving Progress

Documentary screenings in cafe style lend to open discussion.

The documentary Surviving Progress is the last screening for Open Cinema's ninth season. Wed, April 25.

The documentary Surviving Progress is the last screening for Open Cinema's ninth season. Wed, April 25.


“I see it as a bit like cafe-culture of Paris in the 1920s: small underground gatherings of people who care about creativity and culture,” says Mandy Leith, documentary editor, social media expert and creator of Open Cinema.

Open Cinema, a documentary film series, wraps up its ninth year on Wednesday, 25 April, 2012. “Surviving Progress” will be featured, based on the book “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright. Susan Howett of Sierra Club BC, along with Wright, will discuss the film.

Leith sees Open Cinema as a series like no other, “In Toronto, recently, a dedicated cinema for docs just opened, which is fantastic, but it missed the mark. They followed the model of a darkened theatre with row seating. But they need more than just a screening, they need the value-added.”

Open Cinema provides the “value-added, cafe-style” through various means. The venue provides a menu of fresh local food and drinks, encouraging guests to arrive early and mingle. Once the film is over, the real discussions begin. “It’s breaking the fourth wall,” says Leith. “Regular row seating perpetuates the idea of this complete world – it’s just a dream — then you go out into your life. With the cafe-style, the lights go up and we all start talking. We’re looking at each other instead of looking at the screen then walking out.”

Leith believes that this interaction between film and community can bring about change. In fact, she cites a documentary on which she worked as the inspiration for Open Cinema. “I worked on a film called ‘The Friendship Village’ about an American veteran of the Vietnam War. He wanted to repair some of the damage his country had done in Vietnam. So, he basically created a village in Hanoi that helps kids born with defects as a result of Agent Orange.”

Inspired by this hawk-to-dove story, Leith asked herself how she could contribute, in her way. She knew that many documentaries are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, but are not finding their audiences. “The blockbuster system is not really designed for documentary, not designed for thoughtful engagement.” Open Cinema is Leith’s attempt to bring people together in a convivial way, to view documentaries and discuss solutions to the problems the films explore.

As Open Cinema approaches 10 years of successful existence, Leith hopes to see a 20th anniversary. “It’s a model that works so well. I want to help seed other Open Cinema-type initiatives.”



Open Cinema’s final screening of season nine runs Wednesday, April 25 at the Victoria Event Centre at 7 p.m.

Featuring a group discussion facilitated by Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress and Susan Howatt, Sierra Club BC. Cash bar, delicious local eats, Fernwood Coffee, Silent auction and other fundraising treats.

Donations over $10 eligible for tax receipts

Advance Tickets $15

Advance tickets available via online purchase only

A limited number of tickets will be available at the door

Doors open at 5.30pm. Get there early for a good seat!



Review: Surviving Progress



Many of us feel overrun by messages of global distress: riots and revolutions, occupied streets, natural and economic disasters. As our civilization hurtles along, it can be difficult to understand just what is happening to our world. We sense urgency, but can feel confused.

As you watch the remarkable “Surviving Progress,” directed by Mathieu Roy, answers appear. The film adopts a perspective that situates our world as the latest, and largest, in a series of civilizations. We fall into “progress traps,” though, which can have disastrous results. Based on the book “A Short History of Progress,” by Ronald Wright (who appears as talking-head in the film), the film explores the causes and manifestations of these traps.

Some of the world’s most famous thinkers make appearances: Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, Margaret Atwood (now in her debt-criticism mode). An indignant David Suzuki hurls truth-bombs: “Conventional economics is a form of brain damage.” The cumulative effect is that of a united front. More interesting are the lesser-known thinkers, like Michael Hudson, economic historian and former Wall Street economist. Hudson is an exciting figure, providing access to insider knowledge, outlining the connections between global debt, revolution, ecological disaster and those “at the top.” As Wright notes, quoting some wall graffiti, “Every time that history repeats itself, the price goes up.” Plus ca change, indeed.

Roy avoids the earnestness trap in his documentary with humour and gravitas, in equal measure. The soundtrack features drones and music in the lower registers. Something wicked this way comes. Yet, wit is in abundance. One hilarious scene shows footage from the New York Stock Exchange, as the sounds of carnival hucksters is edited in, “Step right this way! Place your bets!” The capitalist shift in China’s economy gets considerable attention in “Surviving Progress,” and another funny scene shows Reagan and Thatcher making nice with Chinese officials, as disco music sets Commie booty shaking.

“Surviving Progress” can be described as a dark film, but it refuses to lapse into despair. Solutions are explored, at the cutting edge of technology e.g. space colonization or synthetic biology. Yet, the most insistent solution comes from Vaclav Smil, a global energy expert: “We have to use less. We are hijacked by a material culture. The problem isn’t technical, it’s ethical.” The alternative, in bald terms, is put forth by Wright: “Climactic disaster is nature’s way of saying the experiment of making apes smarter is a dead-end. It’s our responsibility to prove nature wrong.”


By Brent Schaus