After the emotional moment and the huge honour it was to talk to Alanis Obomsawin (see interview HERE), I was lucky enough to share a few moments with Ezra Winton, co-founder of Cinema Politica (CP), and Inês Lopes, a member of the CP Board and founder of the UQAM branch. They told me more about Cinema Politica, which hosted the Hi-Ho Mistahey screening event. The non-profit media arts organization started in Montreal and now has nearly 100 screening locations all over the world — nine in Quebec, all located in educational venues. Cinema Politica recently published a book entitled Screening Truth to Power was recently published to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the collective. Both founders opened up regarding their expectations as far as the documentary genre is concerned. The Cinema Politica mission is clearly to support “alternative, independent, and radical political film and video, and the artists who dare to devote time, passion and resources to telling stories from the margins. We program works that feature under-represented characters and tell stories which confront and challenge conventional fiction and documentary narratives.” Let us embark upon the Cinema Politica story!
Mylène Chevreul (MC): What made you launch Cinema Politica at the very beginning some ten years ago, with Svelta Turnin ?
Ezra Winton (EW): The first reason is that we found megaplexes and commercial cinemas lacked diversity, and we wanted to see more independent films, or documentary and especially more political films, and we knew lots of those films existed. The second reason was to bring political films and to create a political space on campuses. And it’s still true today, campuses are very corporatized, and more privatized with less politics happening on campuses. And the third reason was to use the power of film to connect younger people — especially students — to politics in a meaningful way so they could be given the opportunity to engage and get involved, to get inspired by what they see on the screen, and then to join civil societies, activist groups, and campaigns.
MC: And other branches emerged in other campuses, namely in UQAM,and you Inês, started it, tell me about more about its creation.
Inês Lopes (IL): Yes, it was in 2005. I had been to a Concordia event about the No Logo book, a friend told me there was a screening about this book we were talking about. And I came and was amazed by the pertinence of the project and the amount of people in the room also. And the feeling you have when you have certain ideologies, philosophies and you think you’re alone in your little corner but then you gather with a hundred like-minded people… And I thought, wow, I’d like to do something like this, with such important information to have in university. And I contacted Ezra to know how to go about a project like that, the money, the communication and so on…
MC: How do you get funding for the association?
EW: The funding comes from art councils, from collecting donations and from membership fees. There’s a lot of in-kind donations, for instance, there’s a lot of volunteer labour. We don’t have a proper salary for ourselves. We pay artist fees for showing the films and we select about fifty films a year. I’m the director of programming but we have a team of about seven programmers who go through hundreds of submissions and look for films that touch on very important political issues that are hopefully well made and independent and we try to pick films that are under-represented in other platforms or venues, and we try to create a diversity of subjects and topics. We’re also very much aware of having a diversity of artists. For instance, we try to have an even split between men and women directors, and try to make sure it’s not a bunch of white guys basically, which you’d find in a lot of other film festivals, for instance. Then the locals select films from that central pool. We call that committee programming. We also do community programming, that is, different community groups (including local ones) suggest films to us, or community groups like activist or political groups, say, “There’s a campaign and we’d like you to find a film for us” and that would be collaborative programming.”
MC: Could you tell us more about the special guest (Alanis Obomsawin) from the screening, and what brings you so close to Alanis ?
EW: We have been screening Alanis’s films for almost a decade. She’s been making films for four decades and we have tried to maintain a focus on providing a space for perspective and voices of people that are historically oppressed or that are marginalized in contemporary society, and in Canada first and foremost that is our Aboriginal communities. Other groups include immigrant communities, working poor, and people that are jobless and/or homeless. But Aboriginal communities here are important because it connects with the history of occupation and colonialism in this country. There have been a lot of Aboriginal artists making films about their community and Alanis is one of those people and she is, I’d say, the most important Aboriginal film-maker in this country. Her films are powerful and moving and they help educate settler audiences. They also are in conversation with her own people and give a platform and voice for them. We love her so much that we named an award after her about four or five years ago, called The Alanis Obomsawin Award for Committment to Community and Resistance. She’s made a lot of films, but there’s a thread that goes through which is a cultural and political thread that cuts to the heart of what we do and why we do it. So yes, we have a kind of special relationship with her, and she seems to like us back, and she comes to all of our events that we invite her to. She’s a very generous person and she always has time for people, it’s amazing.
IL: In the Dox Vox Mixtape sections from the book, one of her main films, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, appears several times among those lists, – it’s a very powerful film and it’s online! It’s included in the Anarchist List, First Nations List obviously…
MC: I precisely meant to talk about the book, so you made way for a nice and easy transition, Inês. It’s called Screening Truth to Power: A Reader on Documentary Activism and it was released fairly recently…
EW: A week and a half ago, yes!
MC: I just wanted to know more about the incentive behind it.
EW: My answers always come in three, so here I go again. The first thing was that, after ten years of activities, we wanted to produce something tangible, a cultural artefact, because what we produce is our events. The second thing – they’re all connected – was to have a marker, to commemorate ten years of our work and screening documentaries. And the third one was to create a space where we could articulate what we do at the intersection of activism and documentary. So that’s why we did the book. It’s already in libraries and we know there are teachers who’ll put it on their lists, and maybe some high school teachers will use it. And of course people have been ordering it through our website.
MC: Any future projects for Cinema Politica?
EW: We have so much going on. Maybe we’ll do more books if this one works out. We’re of course always doing our screenings, and we have a lot of collaborations coming up.
IL: The Funambule Festival for instance in the summer at Parc Lafontaine.
MC: Ok, much more going on to be checked out then. Thank you very much Ezra Winton and Inês Lopes!
See the Cinema Politica website (click HERE) to keep abreast of events including the schedule of films.