Opinion Column

Barrie Film Festival becoming a family affair: ROOT ISSUES

By Erich Jacoby-Hawkins

The award-winning documentary Angry Inuk will be screened at the Barrie Film Festival. SUBMITTED

The award-winning documentary Angry Inuk will be screened at the Barrie Film Festival. SUBMITTED

I have written before about my patronage of the annual Barrie Film Festival, now heading into its final weekend of this year’s incarnation.

Having first learned a love of independent or international film, documentaries and shorts while a student in Waterloo, I was thrilled upon moving to Barrie in 1999 to discover that, although lacking a repertory theatre, we did have an annual film festival, In 2000 or 2001, my wife and I attended an early iteration of the Short Film competition, watching each half the program on a TV in two rooms of the original MacLaren Gallery, a converted century home.

The Shorts remain an annual tradition for my wife and I, while I also enjoy attending as many of the other features as I can manage over the 10-day schedule. (My record so far is eight!) With my mother living in Barrie, I can treat her to the festival’s special Director’s Brunch event, coming up this Sunday.

But now the circle is expanding, as my elder daughter, almost 12, is now old enough to enjoy some of the films.

As I’ve written before, Brianna is motivated by ecology and social justice. This weekend we’ll be seeing a film about a girl her age but living in Afghanistan, bearing the burden of caring and providing for her father and grandfather amid wartorn poverty and danger.

As a bonus, the film’s creators will attend to discuss the issues depicted and the filmmaking process.

And that’s what I really love about our film festival – getting to meet, hear from, and question the filmmakers themselves, something you can’t do with a Hollywood blockbuster at your local cinema, nor a selection from NetFlix.

There is nothing quite like seeing a film and then immediately presenting your comments or questions to the filmmaker him or herself: a wonderful experience for both audience and director, and a signature feature of Barrie’s annual film fests (including the Reel Stories docfest in February).

Three of this year’s BFF screenings feature filmmaker Q&A, and of course the Director’s Brunch always spotlights a different director and themed presentation.

Which means my daughter also got to meet another filmmaker, Angry Inuk director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and her main subject, Inuit sealskin furrier Aaju Peter.

The film Angry Inuk depicts the struggles of Canada’s most northern people to adapt to rapid colonization, a warming Arctic, and a meltdown in the price of seal pelts they need for cash to pay for gas and ammunition for hunting seal, their staple food.

This passionate yet understated film is quintessentially Canadian, as the strong emotion of the title remains largely below the surface due to the Inuit culture’s aversion to openly displays of anger.

Since my daughter and I are both motivated by ecological concerns, a love of traditional cultures, and a drive for justice, the complex way these interlinked issues have apparently worked at odds was a fascinating and powerful subject.

And my daughter’s question after the film has created an ongoing relationship with the film’s director and her star, with a pair of sealskin earrings in the mail and a school classroom visit in the works.

Whether you are moved by the fate of Canada’s seals, or of our seal hunters, want to learn about the struggles of the far north or how the politics of activism can have unintended consequences, or just want to know the best way to eat seal meat (hint: raw), this is a film you won’t want to miss, and it is screening again this Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Uptown Theater, 55 Dunlop St. W. Or catch any of the other great selections listed at BarrieFilmFestival.ca. None of them will disappoint!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Read and comment on this and other Root Issues at www.ErichtheGreen.ca.

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