DOXA festival a platform for social change

The DOXA film festival will feature ten days of documentaries from Canadian and international filmmakers beginning May 3. This year’s films will deal with a wide range of topics, but are tied together by a common concern for social justice and community engagement.

“That’s kind of where DOXA began. It’s very much a social justice driven festival and that’s always been where we jump off from,” says Dorothy Woodend, program coordinator of DOXA.

The festival’s films are organized into programs which touch on similar themes and are designed to provide an opportunity for audiences to engage with the issues and interact with the filmmakers.

Rated Y for Youth features eight films this year. Through engaging young people, we want to provoke discussion, and affect social change. It’s like the Justice Forum but for younger audiences,” says Woodend

The Justice Forum directly engages audiences with global justice issues through discussion about the films.

“It has grown and developed into one of our most important programs and deals with issues all around the world. With each film, a local context is given to subjects covered in the films and we break the Q and A structure down to make it more free flowing. By actively encouraging that type of conversation between audience members it becomes more of a collective thing,” says Woodend.

Documentaries in the Justice Forum include My Brooklyn, which profiles the gentrification of Brooklyn. The film will open up parallels to the Vancouver Downtown Eastside and many other major urban centres.

The festival will open with Vancouver-based film Occupy: The Movie.

“It was by young guys with very few resources and huge committment,” says Woodend.

“Our mandate with the movie was to go to the people who were instrumental in starting the Occupy Wall St. movement and get their perspective, but then also to get the perspective from academia,” says producer Andrew Halliwell. “We went to Harvard and spoke to human rights professors, economics professors and we tried to get a sense from investors, bankers and lobbyists, to really try and discern what was the fair representation of Occupy. It was clear that that representation wasn’t being put forth by the mainstream news media.”

Brenda Davis is a Canadian filmmaker who grew up in Toronto and currently lives in New York City. Her entry, Sister, follows the lives of birthing attendants and midwives in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Haiti.

“Documentaries can play an integral role in educating audiences about race and gender and other forms of oppression and moving audiences to act. While those on the ground are working tirelessly everyday in their communities, sometimes it is difficult for us to step back and see the bigger picture of the ways that policy and history are interconnected with their on-the-ground work. Sister gives them the megaphone to tell us why maternal and newborn deaths are occurring at such high rates and how this issue affects their communities,” says Davis.

Davis’ goal is to have audiences identify with her film and the strong voices within it.

“Indigenous voices are strong, local stories are important and local strategies are important within the issue of the crisis of maternal and newborn mortality. The health workers and women in Sister don’t need us to speak for them, but for us to be in solidarity with them,” says Davis.

Halliwell also hopes that his film will be an effective education tool for audiences.

“For most people, reading books is time consuming, and if you’ve got a family and a full time job it’s unrealistic to expect people to have that level of awareness. But it’s to the detriment of society if they don’t have some level of awareness when it comes to issues surrounding politics or technology or science or human rights. For that reason we can’t really afford to have a world where there aren’t documentaries,” he says.

Hanna Menon, who volunteered as an usher with DOXA last year, is looking forward to seeing Fire in the Blood, a part of the Justice Forum. The film portrays the struggle in India to make the largest pharmaceutical corporations in the world supply antiretrovirals at standardized prices to people with HIV/AIDS. Menon appreciates how documentaries shed light on subjects we don’t know enough about.

“I have watched a number of documentaries that have made me more aware of issues that I have not had enough information on,” says Menon. “It can only be a positive thing when we are made more aware of the world we live in. They also give a sense of hope, encouragement for the future, but more acceptance and compassion to people and this world. We need people who feel passionate about telling true stories and who don’t censor the nitty-gritty aspects of what we all are made from.”

To see the full festival schedule,


A still from the film Occupy featured at the DOXA film festival - Photo courtesy of Occupy the Movie

A still from the film Occupy featured at the DOXA film festival – Photo courtesy of Occupy the Movie

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