KDocs Film Festival celebrates 10 years

The documentary festival will be hosted Feb. 18 to 27, with films available for viewing online

Collage of films being featured at KDocsFF. (Submitted)

Collage of films being featured at KDocsFF. (Submitted)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s own documentary festival, KDocsFF, will have its annual film festival this month from Feb. 18 to 27 and will feature several new films.  

KDocs was created in 2012, and two years later it became a film festival. It was created by KPU instructor Janice Morris as a way to increase student engagement. Like last year, the festival will be virtual, and attendees can pay $5.00 for one film viewing where they will have 48 hours to watch it. In order to access every film in the festival, attendees will have to pay $45.00, and they will have ten days to view the films. 

Marking the tenth year anniversary of the festival, the theme for this year is “Seeking Truth. Waging Change.” 

Janice Morris, founder and director of KDocs was part of a task force at the university that looked into how students seemed to only focus on their course work. In return, they wanted to create an activity or event that would be enticing to students. 

The idea for a film festival came to Morris after her many trips to the Vancouver Film Festival, and when she noticed how her students seemed to enjoy when a documentary was used to illustrate class topics. 

Ten years ago, KDocsFF started as a single film night event, and has since grown into a multi-day festival offered every year. The festival has a YouTube channel called KDocs Talks featuring festival speakers. 

When Morris looks back at the decade of growth, she feels pride in the festival’s success. She’s proud that the initial goal of creating important dialogues from the films at the festival has remained the same throughout the years. 

Some of the films to be featured this year are Dead Boy, Food for the Rest of Us, and Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy.

Like many other films showcased in the KDocs film festival, this year’s focus is on the environment, climate change, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

Morris says the theme is called “Seeking Truth. Waging Change” because every film featured offers an “explanation of the truth,” as well as a “questioning of what truth means.” 

She says when something is seen as the truth, it is not determined by the people living the truth and so responsible citizens should strive to question what the truth is. 

“Each of these films and many of the filmmakers themselves … [are] activists in their own right. They are truth seekers, but at the same time with an acknowledgment, that truth itself is a very slippery term,” Morris says. 

As the theme for this year looks at unveiling truths, Morris wants viewers to see how the films for this year, just like previous years, connect with current events. The continuation of Indigenous genocides is an issue Morris lists.  

The present times have changed the ways humans exchange and receive information, which has caused many to be less sensitive when it comes to important problems, Morris says 

So, when she goes through the selection process for the film festival, Morris makes sure the film is focusing on the important individual stories as well as the whole story that needs to be told.

For example, films like Warrior Women and Lupita are what Morris says represent women as “film subjects and as filmmakers.” 

“We see the specific topics that we see in today’s world, the many crises and issues we’re faced with, they’re directly reflected in the films. But also, we see broader issues like gender equity or inequity, coming up as a throughline through these films,” Morris says. 

The ten-year anniversary of KDocs doesn’t just include new film additions and increased guest attendance. There is currently a five-year plan in place to create a KDocs-affiliated research institute.

Greg Chan, community outreach at KDocs and instructor in KPU’s English department, plans to take a one-year educational leave in order to work on “KIDA lab,” KDocs Institute for Documentary Activism.

Chan says the current plan for KIDA is to make it a “research hub.” A place for people studying documentary activism to work on their craft and attend KDocs conferences. This “research hub” will be a physical space and the plan is to have it on the Surrey campus. 

“We’re going to launch that experiential lab very soon, probably in the fall or early 2023. By 2024, we’ll host the very first conference and then from there we’ll start developing into a research institute,” Chan says. 

Chan, like Morris, wants people to take in the important messages from these films. 

“I want our guests and viewers to take a deep dive into these social justice issues. I want them to feel better informed about the issue after they see the documentary,” he says. 

On top of the films, there will also be panel discussions and a live Q&A session. 

One of the keynote speakers for this year’s festival is Vicki Haynes, an Indigenous studies instructor at KPU. She will be moderating the discussions on the films Warrior Women, Lupita, and Mary Two-Axe Earley; I am Indian Again. 

To Haynes, all three films showcase how personal healing from each member of the community benefits the whole community. Haynes recognizes that everyone who will watch the film will have their own lived experiences, but she hopes they can all finish the film with the same hopeful feeling as she did. 

The theme of truth and change is important, Haynes says. She sees the work by KDocs to expand the conversations on social issues as important for the university. 

“It’s a real gift to have events like KDocs to hold that space for us and ask us to think about things in a different light, or listen to some folks that we might not have heard their stories previously,” Haynes says. 

Each film presented focuses on different types of social issues and advocates for social change in some way. Some of the films focus on the fight for the rights of Indigenous peoples, and Haynes wants people to know that the fight for Indigenous peoples to have basic rights is not new and is ongoing.  

“Indigenous Peoples in particular [have] this legacy of resistance and activism, and standing up for justice. That’s not a new movement. Our work now as Indigenous people isn’t new,” she says. 

“I am really excited and lucky to be facilitating a conversation with groups of folks who have focused on telling Indigenous stories of culture change. That includes I am Indian Again, and Lupita,” Haynes says. 

“I do hope that people, whether they’re Indigenous or not, can come to these films and start to understand that legacy, that heritage, and also to feel like they have a place, like they have a role to play. There are ways for everyone to be engaged, regardless of where you come from, or what the issue is that you want to see manifest,” Haynes says. 

Watching the films for her keynote address made Haynes realize the fight for justice is generational. She says the change people want to see does not always happen in their lifetime, so the motivation should be “building change for the future.” 

Hayne’s moderation of the three films will include a live Q&A session, and she wants the listeners to take in the words from the discussions and draw inspiration from them. 

“My hope also is that people will feel inspired by listening to others who have taken a risk and tried to make a difference and put something out in the world. It can be so difficult to create and it can be so difficult to decide to engage with the public world when it comes to issues of social justice and change,” Haynes says. 

“I want folks, regardless of their background, to feel like that’s a space for them.” 

To Haynes, KDocs is creating a space for important conversations to grow outside of the university classes. 

She acknowledges the role of university classes and how they can provide a structured framework for certain important topics but points out the discussions at KDocs, and how they can help attendees come to their own understanding of important topics as well as offer the space to connect on shared experiences. 

“When we’re able to convene these more open and inclusive kind of activities, then we’re able to share the stories more broadly. At the end of the day, you know, it’s that truth telling that is so important,” she says. 

Having these important conversations is one of the outcomes Morris says she strives for when preparing the films for the festival. She also hopes people will expand their involvement in social change into educating and advocating. 

She says seeing an audience member connect with the speaker at the festival, and create their own projects together makes her ready to put more hours into the next festival. 

“The end goal is creating awareness and building engagement,” Morris says.

“The real goal of KDocs is really to bring people together around important issues.”