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Women-centred films close out Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Festival

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Still from film "Arab Blues" Image: Arab Blues/mk2 films

From the opening night screening of the metamorphic biopic Pain and Glory to the closing day focus on films about and by women, the 2019 Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Festival was an eclectic, inclusive, diversified feast for the senses.

In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, the festival shone a light on First Nations issues with screenings and panels that included Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, and There Are No Fakes.

Tackling tough issues like unequal access to health services for First Nations children living on reserve, systemic racism permeating the legal system, and a lack of concern and inaction to stop ongoing abuse of First Nations youth attending high school off reserve, the festival provided opportunities to acknowledge, understand and demand action from our governments and institutions in order to improve relations with our treaty partners.

During a phone interview Tasha Hubbard, writer and director of nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, said, "It's our neighbours and the people we invite to dinner parties that are not only harbouring but vocalizing anti-Indigenous racism." What is perhaps more unsettling is that we settlers are turning a blind eye to these uninformed, hateful comments.

By not addressing racist statements and actions we become allies for bigots rather than accomplices, actionists and protectors of the founding nations of this country. These important documentaries will make you rethink the role you are playing in exposing and accepting the difficult truths in order to advance actions that will bring about meaningful reconciliation.

Paul Émile d'Entremont's documentary, Standing on the Line, explored the taboos associated with being LGBTQ in amateur and professional sports. D'Entremont offered viewers a glimpse into a world that creates an inclusive environment for all young athletes.

Then there was the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, giving viewers insight into the life of this prolific writer. Morrison was the first writer to say that writers of colour and writers who are Black women should feel no obligation to pass the misogynous white lens test. She knew validation comes from outside that narrow, outdated, one-dimensional appraisal.

Nothing Fancy chronicled the life and times of chef, author and environmentalist Diana Kennedy. This vital and active nonagenarian had a shocking combination of humour and incredible knowledge of regional Mexican cuisine -- and chose to live a life that shows genuine care and concern for the Earth.

Ai Weiwei's documentary The Rest laid bare the shocking reality of life as a refugee. We meet people and families who have left everything they know and love in search of safety and a new life.

These forced migrants make perilous trips under unbelievably inhospitable conditions only to find themselves in countries that, at best, offer little help and no hope for a better future and, at worst, act out violently against them in their time of need.

It was no surprise that the Westdale Theatre sold out for the screening of Once We Were Brothers. Documenting the evolution and dissolution of The Band predominantly through the eyes of the legendary Robbie Robertson, this was a film that brought back memories for the older members of the audience while giving younger viewers a context for the songs they hear on Spotify.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open drew a decidedly female crowd to view a movie based on director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers' real-life experience. Two Indigenous women from starkly different backgrounds meet by chance. While one young woman adjusts to her recent decision to remain childless, the other grapples with protecting her unborn child while living with an abusive partner.

Some will find the ending unfulfilling, but the rest of us recognize the cyclical nature of abusive relationships and the complications that surround leaving especially when choices are limited and supports are few.

Watching Photograph was lovely way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon. Set in Mumbai, a street photographer is being pressured by his village grandmother to marry. In advance of her visit the photographer convinces a young accounting student to pretend to be his fiancée.

As far from the typical Bollywood production as possible, this romantic drama will have you hoping beyond hope that somehow this couple can move beyond their differences in caste, religion, life experiences and family expectations. But that only happens in the movies. (Hindi with English subtitles.)

Which brings me to my last review, Arab Blues. This fabulous debut film by Manele Labidi follows the trials and tribulations of Selma as she returns to Tunis after living for a decade in Paris. A psychotherapist looking to set up shop in her hometown, Selma has no problem finding clients. Unfortunately, she is facing a host of challenges when it comes to keeping the local police and bureaucrats happy.

A good balance of comedy, romance and real-life issues made this a really enjoyable way to end the festival. (French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

The 11th annual Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Festival was a 10-day extravaganza that not only screened films from a wide variety of genres, but included powerful and impactful pieces and panel discussions that provided much-needed insight into the state of the world we inhabit and the way we treat others.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Arab Blues/mk2 films

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