Celebrating films about the experiences and struggles of workers

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Image: Canadian Labour International Film Festival

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh interviews Navjeet Sidhu and Scott MacDonald. They are board members of the Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLiFF), an event that brings films about work, workers, and working-class struggle to cities and towns across the country every November.

One of the things that can be really striking when you begin to dig into the history of working people and working-class struggles is that there was a time when there was far more infrastructure than we have today – whether it was connected to the labour movement or to leftist political parties or otherwise embedded in working-class communities – focused on making, sharing, and celebrating a distinctly working-class culture.

Moreover, when you look at the mainstream cultural landscape today, you have to look pretty hard to find television and movies focused on telling stories about working and workers and working-class struggles. It's not there's none – there just isn't much. Today, the very idea of culture that focuses on and emerges from the experiences of workers – in all of the racial, gender, sexual, linguistic, ability-based, and national diversity that category captures – can be hard to communicate and often evokes skepticism about its importance and value.

Thankfully, there are also plenty of exciting grassroots initiatives pushing back against that erasure, including CLiFF.

The festival was founded by Frank Saptel – a communications officer for the Machinists Union – when he noticed that, though there are local events of various sorts in some places in Canada that celebrate working-class culture, there was no film festival of national scope devoted to the experiences of workers, working, and labour. And since 2009, the volunteers who make CLiFF happen have been raising the funds and doing the planning necessary to fill that gap.

Each year, the festival calls for submissions, usually on the general theme of work and workers, from professional and grassroots filmmakers alike. This year they had more than 200 submissions to choose from. One of the things that the CLiFF board does with these submissions is program a keynote CLiFF screening in Toronto. This year it happened on November 10th, which was a few days after the conversation with Navjeet and Scott was recorded but before this program has made its way to listeners.

That's not all, though – CLiFF is a national festival. The CLiFF board puts together packages to make it as easy as possible to host a screening. They provide ready-made promotional material as well as a choice between a one-hour and a two-hour collection of films on DVD. And because of this, throughout the month, screenings of CLiFF's selections happen in cinemas and union halls, in community centres and break rooms, in big cities and small towns, all across Canada.

This year's CLiFF line-up includes four films from Canada, as well as films from South Africa, France, Mexico, the UK, Egypt, and more. The content ranges from a comedy about working in the food service inudstry, a documentary examining the role of people who work in the fishing industry in Greece in responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, a look at the struggles of workers in South African vineyards, a film highliting the experiences of migrant tobacco workers, a short about working as a beekeeper, and lots more.

Image: Modified from an image that is used with permission of the Canadian Labour International Film Festival.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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