Documentary shines light on repair cafés

Photo courtesy of Cat Mills

FIXED! is a short documentary that was inspired by the rise of ‘repair cafés’ in local communities around the world. The movement initially began in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and quickly became a phenomenon. At a repair café, volunteers gather to fix broken items from the public for free. These items include electronics, small appliances, jewelry, clothing – just about anything. Volunteers also only use whatever tools they have available on site to fix these items.

FIXED! will be presented at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival taking place in downtown Vancouver May 4–14.

The documentary focuses on a repair café in Toronto, Canada. Through a “day in the life” style film, viewers get to meet the volunteer fixers and the members of the community who come to the cafés with their broken items. The film features a vibrating hairbrush and a singing, robotic turtle. What makes FIXED! different from other environmental films is that it takes a rather light-hearted perspective on the solution-based, growing movement.

It was directed by Vancouver native and Toronto-based filmmaker Cat Mills, and produced by Vancouver-based filmmaker Joella Cabalu.

“When we talk about the state of the environment and sustainability, it is easy for people to get depressed and feel hopeless,” says Mills. “The repair café movement is an empowering way to get involved and make a difference, and the film is a fun and entertaining way to learn more about the movement.”

Inspired by community

Documentary filmmaker Cat Mills. | Photo courtesy of Cat Mills

The community building aspect of repair cafés was what first caught Mills’ attention.

“I was really drawn to the repair café movement because it builds community, teaches people how to fix things and diverts objects from the landfills,” she says.

For Mills it is incredibly important that such a simple thing has the power to change the way people think about sustainability. She notes that few members of her generation are able to fix broken items by themselves, and says this has been an enlightening experience for her. Mills learnt new skills and became far more careful about the items she bought, opting for things that are well built and likely to last for a long time.

The process of creating FIXED! also allowed Mills to explore the importance of community and how much is gained when people help others.

“We are social creatures and as much as we enjoy time to ourselves, we still need one another. It is part of being human. It feels good to help other people,” she says.

The film inspired her to interact with others more often and to offer help when needed.

Two messages

FIXED! stresses the importance of keeping belongings alive and to move beyond seeing things as temporary and disposable.

“More than 50 tons of household waste are thrown out every second, globally – how much of this stuff can be given a second life through repair?” asks Mills.

The second message of the documentary is the importance of caring for each other. At repair cafés, if you want an item fixed, then it is done by a volunteer – a stranger.

“Community is a really important thing for us to have, and it is often compromised by long work hours, hectic schedules and time spent in front of computer and phone screens. It’s important to connect with humanity, and a repair café is a great place to go for that,” says Mills.

Ultimately, the goal of FIXED! is to encourage the viewer to join the movement and think about making sustainable and environmentally-friendly purchases. Mills emphasizes that the documentary is also about venturing into one’s community and saying “Hi!” to neighbours and creating connections.

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