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Reclaiming community: A glimpse at this weekend's Parkdale Film and Video Showcase

The Parkdale Film & Video Showcase has been around in various forms since 1999. Now in its 15th year, Rebecca Gruihn of the Parkdale Beauty Pageant Society is curating the program with new meaning.

Parkdale is a small neighbourhood nestled in and around perpendicular streets Queen West and Roncesvalles Avenue, notorious for being a rough area to live. Festival programmer Rebecca Gruihn emphasizes that this reputation is a “hangover” from years ago, and that a big part of the festival itself is to assert the Parkdale community as a stable, vibrant, and prosperous part of the city.

The festival was conceived as “REHAB: Parkdale Film & Video Showcase” at the end of a particularly tumultuous era in its history. The prefix “REHAB” pointed to a rehabilitation of the neighbourhood’s status as a high-crime slum. Contrary to the widespread impression of Parkdale held by other Torontonians, at the end of the 90s Parkdale was home to an extremely diverse and active body of citizens. The purpose of the film festival has always been to share the talents and evolution of the community with the rest of the city.

Recently the Parkdale Beauty Pageant Society decided that since Parkdale was no longer in a state of rehabilitation, the extra prefix to the festival name didn’t fit. They dropped “REHAB,” but the “RE’s” stuck as a tool for creating the festival program each year and for keeping the original spirit of the festival alive. Each evening’s showcase is given a title: REnarrate, REclaim, and REvisit. From these titles emerge the themes and concepts that programmers like Gruihn use to select films from all of the submissions.

REnarrate took place at the Gladstone Hotel on July 19. It was about redefining the meaning of community. In the past the festival had been all about looking at the community from within, but this year Gruihn wanted to look outwards from Parkdale at what the concept of community meant to citizens who may have immigrated to the neighbourhood from another country, or who simply moved to the area from another part of Toronto.  Gruihn selected six films that spoke nicely with each other about what it means to be a part of a community, what it means to leave a community, and what it means to provide assistance to a community that is different than your own.

Within this broad topic, directors created dialogue about issues that threaten communities worldwide. “Don’t Leave Me,” directed by Kelly O’Brien addressed the myth of the American military using a collage of images from an older era of war narrated by excerpts from interviews with contemporary military deserters and casualties of the Iraq war and their families, as well as older vocal recordings of Sir Joseph Rotblat, the only physicist to abandon the Manhattan Project on the grounds of conscience before the deployment of the Atomic weapon against Japan. The juxtaposition between WWII and the war in Iraq, and the use of aged film clips throughout makes a powerful statement about the endless cycle of violence that happens when, as the film points out, people buy into the idea that there can be a “good” war.

Also on Friday night’s program was “Wapawekka” by director Danis Goulet, a melancholy film about generational discord in First Nations families. Goulet’s film was shy of 17 minutes in length and followed a father and son camping trip at a time of huge change in the family. The father had sold their modest island cabin, and the son hoped to get a cut of the funds to start a music career far away from his roots in Toronto. Lack of communication and different sets of values characterized the interaction between characters in this short, answering just enough audience questions to keep them curious about the issue after they left the viewing. A nice touch was offering both English subtitles and the appropriate subtitles for each of the three Cree dialects used in the film.

The other films shown were “Green Lazer” by John Greyson, “Home” and “Bridge” by Matthew Kennedy, and “Howard” by Carolyn Wong. 

If you missed last night’s program there are 3 more opportunities for you to take part in the festival. Tonight’s theme is “REclaim,” and includes lighter shorts that are being shown outdoors in The Albert Crosland Parkette on Fuller Ave. According to Gruihn, this event is about taking back community space for collective activity. Screenings include 9 shorts that range form one and a half minutes to about 15 minutes in length. Additionally, there are art installations by Parkdale artists at three local businesses. For the whole weekend you can see Jon Sasaki’s video installation at Capital Espresso, Rodrigo Hernandez Gomez’s “Ribbon Ceremonies” at Go Lounge, and Emmalyne Laurin’s textile work at Common Sort.

Finally, Sunday night at 6pm in the Collective: Artscape Triangle Gallery is “REact,” a project very dear to Gruihn and crucial to the overarching theme of taking back community space. The project was inspired by a series of sexual assaults that happened in 2012 in many Toronto neighbourhoods including Parkdale, and the response that the media and police had to these assaults. As often happens, police officers suggested that in order to prevent these assaults, women should cover up and stay inside their homes at night. Gruihn and many critics of these statements argue that by advising women to remain indoors and be modestly dressed at all times, the blame for these attacks was shifted from the perpetrators to the victims. This shift in blame cultivates shame for women who walk in their communities at night, or who express themselves with their attire. This outraged many citizens, and all over the city events like Slutwalk and Take Back the Block were staged to combat victim-blaming scenarios. The Parkdale Film and Video Showcase are adding their voice to this movement with “REact,” a series of shorts that discuss public expressions of female sexuality, and reclaiming community space. 

More information of about these screenings and the Parkdale Film and Video Showcase can be found here.

 

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