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Credit: Courtesy Carts of Darkness

This Sunday, April 19, the Pivot Legal Society and Simon Fraser University are co-hosting the Reel Justice Film Festival, a “film-based exploration of homelessness in Vancouver.”

The daylong festival, which features more than 18 films, costs $5 for everyone and $3 for students, seniors and low-income people. Much like the Projecting Change Film Festival the event pairs screenings with dialogue with directors and producers.

I caught up with three of the filmmakers to ask about their experience. I’m hoping their thoughts act as examples to help illustrate last week’s blog about the ethics and practice of tackling difficult topics in storytelling.
 


Reel Justice

The Reel Justice Film Festival plays on Sunday at SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street. Tickets are available online


Click on the filmmakers' names below for their thoughts:

Jennifer Mervyn directed and produced Dr. Metamorphosis: An In-Depth Look at the Life of Former Street Kids.


Danse Crowkiller
, along with Sterling Pache, conceived, directed and shot The Purpose of Life is Rice…Wink.

Charles Wilkinson created Down Here, a 30-minute short that has screened at several international film festivals, including the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it was voted Most Popular Canadian Short.
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Dr. Jennifer Mervyn directed and produced Metamorphosis: An In-Depth Look at the Life of Former Street Kids.

This film ethnography, which was Dr. Mervyn’s PhD dissertation, features four B.C. youth talking about their life on the streets and how they transitioned away from it.
 


Reel Justice


The Reel Justice Film Festival plays on Sunday at SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street. Tickets are available online.


As a clinical therapist, not a professional filmmaker, Dr. Mervyn said the learning curve was difficult, but thought the medium of film could help her reach a broad audience and encourage and inspire people on the front lines—as well as those still out on the streets.

“My film is a video ethnography, not a documentary. That means I used PUBLIC EDITING. Each of my subjects were represented in the way that they wanted to be.

That means they were involved in each stage if the editing process, and able to have a say in what stays and what gets cut. It was the best way to truly honour them and their stories.”

As a former street kid, Dr. Mervyn said the film aimed to personalize statistics. Her best memory came once the film began receiving attention. (It was first screened in 2005 at the International Association for Counselling Conference in Argentina)

“[The girls featured said the film] was keeping them walking the straight and narrow, keeping them accountable that they were living clean, and [made them consider they] were now role models and examples to others they had never met. This was an effect I had not counted on.”
 

SEE Metamorphosis at 7:10 p.m. in Theatre 4.

WATCH

a six-minute clip of the film.

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Danse Crowkiller, along with Sterling Pache, conceived, directed and shot The Purpose of Life is Rice…Wink. Danse shot the 30-minute documentary in the first person to show viewers details of his life: his carving and his involvement in the community near the corner of Kitchener Street and Commercial Drive, where he’s lived for the past five years. Originally from Victoria, Danse has travelled across North America, from Albuquerque to San Diego to Portland and back.

“The producer [Sterling Pache] gave me a video camcorder and let me film what I do every day, and I was just blown away when I saw the trailer… It’s about me and my carving and the spiritual aspects of my life… [My favourite scenes] are the blackout on Commercial Drive and when it snowed in April.”
 


Reel Justice


The Reel Justice Film Festival plays on Sunday at SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street. Tickets are available online


The biggest challenge in filmmaking was sorting out all the consent forms, as well as watching that his artwork—Danse makes cedar carvings—wasn’t stolen as he worked.

“My art stuff, I take with me everywhere I go, along with at least one knife, so I always have something to make carvings with. The City came twice and took all my stuff. But I’m not worried, I’m not kind of a materialist guy… I was very excited to be here and tell the story about my art and spirituality, and why I’m out here. Many people have a negative outlook, but I always say if you take away a judgment, you have a lesson.”
 

 

Danse’s story is also told in the CBC Newsworld documentary The Devil Plays Hardball
 

SEE The Purpose of Life is Rice…Wink at 2 p.m. in Theatre 1

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Charles Wilkinson discusses his film

Down Here, which will screen at the

Reel Justice Film Festival April 19, 2009.


Charles Wilkinson created Down Here, a 30-minute short that has screened at several international film festivals, including the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it was voted Most Popular Canadian Short.

Wilkinson was drawn to the people of the Downtown Eastside for their realness, honesty and therefore, their beauty. He filmed the people he interviewed—Lorraine at The Listening Post, Bingo on his street corner, Doug Ferris at Insight—using a celebrity interview technique. The biggest challenge was remaining objective, given the terrible stories he heard. But by constantly focusing on trying to make the most beautiful film he could, Wilkinson said his final product was well received by an audience that traditionally avoids social commentary.
 


Reel Justice


The Reel Justice Film Festival plays on Sunday at SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street. Tickets are available online


“[I tried] to maintain at least a sheen of impartiality, the risk being that otherwise I’d alienate a huge chunk of the potential audience… [At screenings] I’ve had conservative guys come in saying: ‘Bunch of bums, addicts. Why can't they get a job like me?’ After the screening, tearful apologies from these guys for being so ignorant have not been uncommon. To me, that’s pretty much what I was after.”

Wilkinson said that when making the film, he learned that homelessness is a complex, global issue; a symptom of a bigger problem than a lack of municipal funding. Instead, he saw it as a reflection of society’s focus on material values—a situation that stacks the deck against people with addiction issues, mental health issues, no money, no family, little education, and no network of support.

“The one common thread I see in the people down here is a sense that ‘you can’t get anywhere from here’. Our society has placed the bar so high on material wealth, on career, connectedness, social networking, that it’s virtually impossible for a homeless person to truly get out—under the present circumstances.”
 

SEE Down Here at 12 p.m. in Theatre 1

READ ABOUT

the film

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