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Powerful energy alternatives

Documentary shows innovation
Powerful filmmaker David Chernushenko

One month after the devastating 9.0 earthquake off Japan's northern coast that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and sent plumes of radiation into the atmosphere, it seems there is no better time to discuss sustainable energy options for the future.

For its 85th screening and fourth-annual Earth Day fundraiser, Open Cinema, the non-profit grassroots documentary screening program by Media Net is presenting Powerful: Energy for Everyone, an innovative look at what alternatives everyday people are finding to conventional energy systems.

Filmmaker David Chernushenko embarks on this exploration of the various alternatives to fossil fuel power and nuclear power, and finds that there are people all over doing remarkable things with wind energy, solar energy and more,” according to Mandy Leith, Open Cinema's founder and director.

He takes a journey across the country — partly in a bio-diesel bus with Adam Kreek, the gold medal Olympian rower who is also a bio-diesel engineer — on the trail of people doing innovative and alternative things with energy.”

After the screening, an open-forum discussion will follow, led by a panel of experts including Kreek, moderator Hugh Kruzel, author Guy Dauncey and Donna Morton — founder and CEO of First Power, which is working towards bringing sustainable energy to remote and aboriginal communities in Canada and across the world. Chernushenko will make an appearance via Skype to introduce the film.

Leith says the discussions are Open Cinema's value-added signature, and the cafe-style set up is designed for engagement. “It helps create the right environment for conversation as opposed to theatre-style seating where you're looking at people's backs,” she says.

We're not critiquing the film as much as we are using the film as the jumping off point to discuss the issues that it addressed. Then we throw it open to the floor and it's always very lively. People come prepared to not only engage in a Q & A, but we also encourage people to think of this as a conversation, and the guests are essentially a resource to the conversation as opposed to the experts.

We really like to encourage the audience to share their own thoughts as well as ask questions.”

The last event of Open Cinema's eighth season will also be a fundraiser with a silent auction. “We raise about 20 per cent of our annual revenue from the fundraiser,” Leith says. “Another 20 per cent comes from donations at the door.”

Every Open Cinema event is admission by donation. Leith says that because the blockbuster cinemas own the rights to screen films, they could deem that Open Cinema is presenting itself as competition, and they can then apply a much bigger screening fee. “They can charge us, so legally we are required to ask for a donation,” she said.

Leith was asked by the Documentary Organization of Canada to be part of the We Love Documentary national campaign, which is drawing attention to the state of the industry, which Leith calls dire.

Unfortunately, documentary film-making conditions have never been so dire for a whole host of reasons,” she says .

The We Love Documentary campaign was soft launched in Toronto at the end of March alongside the release of Getting Real 4: an Economic Profile of the Canadian Documentary Production Industry, the DOC's report on the industry from 2006 to 2009.

The highlights are — actually I would call them lowlights because it's very depressing — over that period 2,000 filmmakers either changed careers or were unemployed due to the falling number of broadcaster commissions for documentaries. One of the reasons is that a lot of documentary dollars are being reassigned to reality TV,” Leith says.

Then there's the ironic twist that although the public might say, 'isn't this the heyday of documentaries? I've never seen so many documentaries in the theatres before.' It is true, but the sad truth is that there is a dwindling number of documentary dollars out there and to create a film that is going to be successful on the big screen in a theatrical release costs about 10 times more than a broadcast documentary or festival documentary.”

Powerful: Energy for Everyone is screening at the Victoria Events Centre (1415 Broad), Wednesday, April 20 at 7 p.m. Suggested donation is $15-$55 at the door. Almost every event this season has been a sell out, so get there early to save a seat. Please bring your own cup, cloth napkin and spork if you plan to partake in the evening's food and beverage offerings.

For more information about the We Love Documentary campaign, visit

Go to to see a copy of Getting Real 4.