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Popular documentary film series to launch in St. John’s

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An independent, grassroots cinema series that screens thought-provoking political documentary films around Canada and the world – the kind you typically won’t find in local movie theatres – is now coming to Newfoundland.

Cinema Politica began as a campus film series in Vancouver and now exists as a Montreal-based media-arts not-for-profit collective of community and campus groups that sustain the umbrella organization, which celebrates the work of Canadian and international filmmakers. “We believe in the power of art to not only entertain but to engage, inform, inspire, and provoke social change,” the group’s website reads.

‘Screening truth to power’

According to its website, Cinema Politica, whose motto is “screening truth to power”, is now the largest volunteer-run, community and campus-based documentary-screening network in the world. It’s also inclusive in that no one interested in attending a screening is marginalized based on their financial circumstances – admission to all screenings is pay-what-you-can.

The St. John’s chapter, made up of several members of the local social justice, academic and arts communities and co-sponsored by Memorial University’s sociology department, will hold its first screening on Tuesday, April 16 on the university campus.

“Right now there’s around 10 or 12 people on our organizing committee, but the idea of Cinema Politica is to engage the community so we’re keen to involve other people and groups,” explains Paula Graham, a graduate student at MUN and founder of the St. John’s chapter.

“I’ve personally been lucky enough to live in cities in the past that had really active Cinema Politica local chapters,” she continues. “When I came to Newfoundland I realized there wasn’t one here, yet there are lots of people who are interested in talking about social issues.” So Graham connected with the Cinema Politica crew in Montreal, who she says were “really happy to hear that a group is being started here. In fact, the co-ordinator said to me, ‘We were wondering when we’d hear from Newfoundland!'”

Films with global and local relevance

Graham says the group will show a diverse selection of films but will focus on ones that deal with “issues that are going on locally or things that the community is interested in.”

Each screening will feature a discussion after the film, “to talk about what we watched, what ideas were sparked by the film,” Graham explains. “We’re also hoping to get speakers at some of the films that can talk about the film’s topic.”

Cinema Politica St. John’s first selection, Surviving Progress, is broad in scope but will serve as a good introduction to what the series is all about. “It is about questioning the notion of ‘progress’ and ‘advancement’ in society,’ Graham explains. “It is based on Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, which was a CBC Massey Lecture many years ago.

“I think this film is a good way to get people to start thinking about what it means for humans to ‘advance’, and who ends up paying the cost of society’s pursuit of progress. (It raises) questions about the environment, globalization, poverty, et cetera, which are questions we are facing right now in Newfoundland, Canada, and around the world.”

A collaborative affair

The group is hoping to connect and collaborate with other local people and groups in determining what other films it will screen.

“We’re hoping to expose people to social issues they may not think about regularly, because they are not in the news, or whatever. And in exposing people to new issues, and different perspectives on social issues, we hope that it will encourage people to start talking about these things,” says Graham. “Ultimately, it would be great to see people start connecting with each other and start getting involved in initiatives that help bring more social justice to their local community and beyond. But mostly I think that film is just a great way to learn about new topics. Anyone can watch a film, it’s an accessible medium, it’s a safe space, and Cinema Politica is free.

Graham also points out that anyone can start a Cinema Politica group. “Just visit the website,” she says. You can follow or contact the St. John’s chapter on Facebook (search: Cinema Politica St. John’s) or via their blog.

Cinema Politica St. John’s inaugural screening, ‘Surviving Progress’, takes place April 16 at 7 p.m. in MUN’s Arts building, room 1046. The group will schedule screenings on the third Tuesday of every month, says Graham.

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