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Journeys of healing and justice featured at Hamilton film festival

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Colten Boushie's family at press conference. Image: National Film Board

Fall has descended and it's time to cocoon with a good movie. Luckily, the 11th annual Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) Film Festival gets underway October 17, ushering in a smorgasbord of current and retro Canadian and international documentaries, dramas, and comedies screened at five of the best venues the Hammer has to offer.

Over the years the AGH Film Festival has welcomed more than 60,000 movie-goers, screened 350 films and partnered with over 120 community and corporate partners to consistently create a venue for films that deserve our attention.

This year has an amazing array of eclectic films to choose from and many include post-film talks with directors, guest speakers, panelists, and film experts.

There is a remarkable range of Canadian and international films to choose from. So, for the 10 days the festival runs, put every non-essential life demand on hold and immerse yourself in the wonder of film.

The opening-night screening of Pain and Glory stars Antonio Banderas as an aging film director questioning and coming to terms with the choices made when balancing personal and professional lives. It's filmed in Spanish with English subtitles.

Then, we are off to the races! I have 20 films on my list of must-sees including Toni Morrison: The Pieces I am; Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy; The Rest; Once We Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band; The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open; RAISE HELL: The Life and times of Molly Ivins; The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw; Willie; and Now We are 25: The Story of Sonic Unyon Records.

It is well worth your time to watch legendary Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin's 53rd film, Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger. A follow-up to the documentary We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice, Jordan River Anderson chronicles how the short life of one First Nations child generated a momentous legacy for Indigenous children across Canada. But even that accomplishment remains in limbo due to the federal government challenging this monumental human rights ruling.

Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba is over 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg and home to 8,000 people. That's where Jordan River Anderson's family lives. Due to complications during her pregnancy Jordan's mother, Virginia Anderson, had to be flown to the Children's Hospital of Winnipeg. No one could have known that Jordan would be forced to live there until his death at five years of age.

Born on October 22, 1999, Jordan had Carey-Fineman-Ziter syndrome, a rare muscular disorder that meant he was ventilator dependent and needed constant care. Being ventilator dependent meant air did not pass over Jordan's vocal cords so he was unable to create sound. But, as you'll discover from this beautiful film, Jordan enjoyed his short life as much as any child could be expected to who has never lived with his family.

On December 12, 2007, private member's Motion 296 in support of Jordan's Principle passed unanimously by a vote of 262 to 0 in the House of Commons. Jordan's Principle established that the first level of government contacted would pay for costs to ensure First Nations children received the treatment they needed and then the federal and provincial governments could argue over payment for services later. By January 2016 not a single Indigenous child was able to access funds through Jordan's Principle.

Jordan's Principle is now law in Canada making the federal government responsible for over 90,000 approved services. To date, 77,000 requests and cases have been approved, but the Trudeau government is taking the case back to court to fight the settlement.

I encourage you to make the time to see award-winning filmmaker Tasha Hubbard's documentary dedicated to the memory of Colten Boushie and his family's struggle for justice in her newest film, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up.

Hubbard skillfully weaves together the biased history of the Prairies, her own adoption into a white settler family, Colten's cold-blooded murder and the systemic racism permeating not only Canada's judicial system, but the country as a whole.

During a phone interview Hubbard 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 and deaf ear to these uninformed, hateful comments.

By not addressing racist statements we become allies to bigots rather than allies, accomplices, and protectors of the founding nations of this country. We have a collective responsibility to make sure all children are safe and if settlers enable First Nation, Inuit and Metis racism to continue then Indigenous children will never be safe.

Hubbard notes, "The rise of hate is very concerning. It has real repercussions. We need a future where we are all safe and where the legal system doesn't lose sight of our (Indigenous) humanity."

Another documentary that resonates with people around the world and especially Hamilton during these fractious times, is filmmaker Paul Émile d'Entremont's documentary, Standing on the Line, which explores the taboos associated with being LGBTQ in amateur and professional sports as well as the stress of deciding whether or not to affirm one's identity.

This film takes a fresh, often moving look at a variety of LGBTQ athletes who are working to overcome stereotypes and prejudices in order to improve life for all athletes.

d'Entremont takes viewers on a loving journey of healing that creates an inclusive environment for all young athletes simply hoping to be remembered for their physical and mental skills.

These three documentaries, along with most of the films at the AGH Film Festival, should be used by high school physical education, civics, law, family studies or social justice teachers. Spread over two periods with time for a written reflection after 40 and 80 minutes this is a wonderful way to open up the dialogue on those uncomfortable but vital discussions we all need to have.

The AGH Film Festival opens Thursday, October 17 and runs until Sunday, October 27. Visit AGHFILMFEST.COM for more information about screenings, venues, ticket prices and movie passes.

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: National Film Board

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