KDocsFF, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s documentary film festival, is returning in-person with the theme “People. Places. Power.” The festival will showcase 25 films from Feb. 22 to 26 at the Vancouver International Film Centre (VIFF).
KPU English instructor and KDocsFF founder Janice Morris started the festival in 2012. The all-access pass to the festival is $50 with a keynote address for each film. The cost per film is $5, $8 for a double-feature, and $10 for double-feature with a reception. Some films also include a live panel discussion and Q&A.
This is the first year the festival will be hosted in-person since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted. Last year, the festival theme was “Seeking Truth. Waging Change.” and hosted online.
Morris says she is excited to be back in-person to showcase the selection of films to a live audience and engage in conversation with the filmmakers to maximize the festival experience.
“There’s nothing quite like being in a theatre with a live audience, with viewers who are right there, to do exactly the thing that KDocs exists to do, which is to create awareness and engagement, and community building,” Morris says.
“The thing that differentiates us from so many other film festivals is that we spend as much time engaging with the films and discussing [them] and engaging with filmmakers and film subjects as we do actually watching the films.”
Morris says the uniqueness of documentary activism lies in the power of storytelling that creates a multi-sensory experience and helps bring attention to global issues around the world, inspiring people to take action.
“Documentary activism in particular, has a unique mobilizing force. There’s something about images and in particular moving images that reaches people,” she says.
This year, KDocsFF is experimenting with double-feature films by providing two films for the price of one. Films covering similar issues will be coupled together in a theme day to make full use of the studio theatre.
“We have one theme day where we have a spotlight on Latin America, and we have a second theme day with a spotlight on the environment,” Morris says.
Choosing from a collection of about 500 films, Morris picked out the films most likely to connect with the audience. She says the element all films have in common is social justice as they all depict the stories of people fighting for issues in the places they are rooted.
“These films are all doing the same thing and telling stories of different people, but in essence, they’re all doing the same thing, which is finding their power in themselves,” she says.
Morris hopes guests understand the power of storytelling and the importance of speaking out and telling your truth through films such as Navalny, based on Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader who was poisoned on a flight from Siberia.
She also recommends Writing With Fire, a film about Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper run by Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh, India. The film follows Meera, the chief reporter at Khabar Lahariya, and her team of journalists as they go digital and question the roots of democracy and freedom in their country.
“There’s a lot about the process of making this film and the film itself that speaks to our times, and while this is a very specific story from a very particular part of India, there is something that makes it universal,” says Rintu Thomas, director of Writing With Fire.
“I think I would be reminding all of us about the joy, importance, power of reflection and storytelling in the times that we’re in,” she says.
Thomas says the women at Khabar Lahariya tell a story of hope with power and resilience from a part of the world where women from marginalized communities are not considered journalists. She says their story will relate to any woman who has been told her voice doesn’t matter.
“Even though it looks like we are inhabiting an even more scattered, fragmented world every day, there are things that are common to the universal human experience and that is why we make films, and we watch films, and cinema is such a unifying force,” she says.
Thomas will talk about the importance of storytelling, its relevance in the present day, and the process of making her film in her keynote speech on Feb. 26.
“So many of our students and community members are of South Asian backgrounds, so this is a story that directly speaks to them, their experiences, and their interests.”
“People need to know that they in and of themselves have a unique power, that the places that they are from and hold dear, whether they are physically there or not, that these are powerful,” Morris says. “When you bring people and places together … there’s no limit to the power that can result.”
She says it’s also important for people who do not belong to the South Asian community to hear these stories of power and social justice as this is a story about people raising their voices against injustices and oppression and making way for their work, gender, and community.
Morris says all the issues depicted in chosen films weave together to fit into the theme of this year’s festival.
“That’s where the theme of people, places, and power really comes to bear because these are real people, in real places, where real oppression and real social injustice has a real-world impact and ramifications in daily life,” she says.
The Cost of Freedom: Refugee Journalists in Canada directed by James Cullingham follows the lives of journalists Abdulrahman Matar from Syria, Luis Nájera from Mexico, and Arzu Yildiz from Türkiye as they try to rebuild their lives in Canada. The film shines light on the freedom of press, dangers journalists face in the modern world, and the conditions that forced the three journalists to flee their countries and seek refuge in Canada.
“I think a documentary with a point of view that is argued rationally takes into account that the world is a complicated place with many competing perspectives is part of the mission of documentary filmmaking,” Cullingham says.
In his keynote speech Cullingham will talk about the condition of journalists globally, the challenges the Canadian media face in providing justice, and allowing people with different linguistic backgrounds to make a living in Canada.
“Authoritarian regimes throughout the world are threatening journalists, in some cases, imprisoning them, in some cases, killing them,” Cullingham says.
He will also talk about the importance of respecting journalists and their freedom to function within a democracy. Cullingham hopes the film raises awareness about the threats to journalists, their rights, and the freedom of press. He says each citizen has a duty to keep talking about these issues.
“I’ve been a working journalist, a documentary filmmaker, and a journalism educator for over 30 years, and to me, it was a great gift to meet these three individuals and to learn about their lives and their struggles,” he says.
Cullingham and Yildiz will be present for the live panel discussion on Feb. 25.
Returning Home directed by Sean Stiller follows the life of Phyllis Jack-Webstad, a residential school survivor, as she takes an educational tour around the nation. It follows the complex reality of multigenerational trauma in the Secwépemc community and the effects of the absence of salmon and a multi-year fishing moratorium.
“People have relied on that salmon for thousands of years, and it’s scary to think that one day it may not be there. So, it brings awareness and education about that, and also brings education and awareness about what’s happened to us at residential schools,” Jack-Webstad says.
In her speech, Jack-Webstad will talk about her book, Beyond the Orange Shirt Story, a collection of resident school experiences from six generations of her family and the impact the schools have to this day.
On the fishing moratorium, Jack-Webstad says salmon fishing is a social tradition for the people in the community. It was strange for her to not to find a single fish by the Fraser River while filming the documentary there.
Morris says KDocsFF brings the entire KPU community and all of Metro Vancouver together by being the premier social justice film festival.
“Whether you’re a student, a teacher, a staff member, or someone in the community, whether you know about KPU or not, this is one way that we can bring together all of those groups and be powerful together.”
To book tickets for the festival, visit https://viff.org/kdocsff-2023/.