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network 20/12/2016 - 05:00PM

The Best Political Films of 2016


Based on the ra-ra role-model heronics reductiveness of the trailer, which was very L.A., I didn't have high hopes for this biopic about a senior trans community leader who I only knew about as one of Out's 2017 100 (a bad sign of rainbow homonormativity). But I was soon seduced by this complex and challenging film. And deeply touched. Biographies often take too many shortcuts, but Major takes pains to flesh out the contradictory textures of Major's life journey and diversity of her overlapping communities. Full of energy, performance, humour and hairdos, as well as deep political parsing of a life well lived, this biopic becomes a collective epic. -- Thomas Waugh (BOD Member) 


As violently xenophobic ideas and actions take a greater hold on the everyday, shown only too vividly by the election of Trump and the increasing momentum of far right groups globally, films that can break apart mainstream anti-immigrant beliefs are urgently needed. This need is just as pressing in Canada where Trudeau's government has successfully lulled the white passport-holding Canadian public back into a comforting self-imagination state of global benevolence, peacekeeping and happy multiculturalism. While the differences that exist between the politics of Trump and Trudeau must be carefully considered and elucidated in order to find nuance on the ground with grassroots strategies, Min Sook Lee’s MIGRANT DREAMS is my must-see film of the year. Because of its thorough demonstration that violence towards immigrants does not stop at the US-Canadian border, this is an urgent call to action.

Featuring a fiercely courageous crew of female & trans migrant workers, MIGRANT DREAMS gives us another vision of Canada than that of a welcoming haven, while also centering the inspiring activism of those most directly affected. Through her powerful documentation that interrogates the ways in which the Canadian agricultural system relies on the exploitation of migrant workers and their families, Min Sook is able to mobilize audiences into thinking about issues too often invisibilized in the Canadian imaginary. As the country celebrates its 150th, Min Sook Lee's MIGRANT DREAMS is a necessary and timely doc. -- Anna Pringle (CP Network Coordinator) 


I was fortunate enough to catch the CP Concordia screening of Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s ANGRY INUK this fall, and was blown away by all I was (embarrassingly) unfamiliar with - notably those regarding the struggles facing Inuit following the stigmatization of seal hunting in Canada. Arnaquq-Baril’s portrait of her community, and the landscape in which they live, gives notion to the fact that the way of life Inuit have been accustomed to for generations is threatened by those of us who care not to educate ourselves about the significance seal hunting holds to Inuit, and that animal rights groups' intense efforts to ostracize this practice may in fact be misguided. This screening was particularly significant given it was a co-presentation with Montreal's RIDM festival (for those paying attention), and it was truly inspirational to have Alethea in attendance to encourage further discussion regarding the severely negative effects collective ignorance and/or denial to this vital market and way of living is having on Inuit in Canada's North. -- Alan McTavish (CPVOD) 


It's very difficult for me to choose just one film out of all the amazing titles CP Concordia screened in 2016, but I would say that the one that shocked me the most was THE PASS SYSTEM. This film gives insight into a dark period in Canadian history that I never knew about before watching the doc - it exposes a systematic segregation and marginalization of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government, the institutions that prevented Indigenous peoples from leaving their reserves without a pass. I encourage everyone to watch this important film and learn about this buried and damaging past so we can begin to heal the present. -- Diana Tapia (CP Concordia Coordinator) 


As an experimental film programmer, I am interested in the ways abstract and traditional documentary film forms can productively interrogate each other, challenging rigid film genres and bringing a viewer to unexpected places. Seeing THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES, I felt as though Brett Story was speaking to me as a close friend, weaving together intimate stories of lives and communities affected by the American prison industrial complex. Rather than overloading us with facts and figures, Story creates a cinematic tapestry, a whole that becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Though she is Canadian, she pins down a uniquely American story with aplomb; over the last three decades, I’ve lived in the rural American South, San Francisco, and New York City, and she bridges vastly different worlds more accurately than I could have imagined. -- Ferrin Evans (Communications Coordinator, CP Concordia) 


Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ short received tremendous acclaim at our First Peoples First Screens (FPFS) launch event and with good reason. A RED GIRL’S REASONING submerges us in a film noir/thriller/action setting in which an Indigenous woman and racially-driven sexual assault survivor turns vigilante to avenge harm done to herself and the women of her community. With Canada wide continued issues surrounding the overwhelming amount of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the recent sexual abuse scandal in Val d’Or, Quebec, the many events that don’t even get covered by mainstream media, and the problematic news coverage of these issues—where the voices of Indigenous women are too often overshadowed and discredited by ever-clinging prejudices held towards Indigenous Peoples—this film is a powerful and vibrant display of how the cinematic medium can be used to bring alternative voices to the forefront and a much needed example of empowerment through radical imagination. 

In just ten minutes, Tailfeathers’ work creates a setting in which the coin is flipped and women make themselves heard, taking back the power that “Canadian" society has too often attempted to take away from them. The film thus moves away from the recurrently victim-focused representation of Indigenous women in mainstream programmation and shows them taking back control over their own narratives. Yes there is violence, but not in any way overdone considering the violences that racism, abuse, dismissal and systematic oppression impose upon them on a daily basis. A RED GIRL'S REASONING is a tremendous example of how fiction works can be used to confront and expose a problematic reality just as well as any documentary. This powerful short also shows the ways in which film can be used as a means of empowerment. Lucky you, it’s available on #CPVOD and it’s a great watch to bring some politics to your winter break viewings. -- Marie-Noëlle Hébert (Design and Communications)


When I think about all the films that Cinema Politica has screened over the last year, the wealth of informed interviews, explicit political urgency, frontlines-of-the-protest cinematography, compelling navigations of complex historical contexts, and tones of action-inspiring indignation makes our roster into a noisy and necessary collection of contemporary filmmaking. That said, I was so inspired when we came across Wayne Wapeemukwa’s BALMORAL HOTEL, a First Peoples First Screens short experimental doc that is so formally opposite to most of CP’s roster and yet so politically lucid. This film screens a compelling wallop of truth to power with elegant, innovative ingenuity — and without a single word of dialogue.

Juxtaposing a choreographed dance piece with the gritty un-choreographed downtown Vancouver that the dance piece tours, BALMORAL HOTEL forces us to rethink the fictions and truths we tell ourselves about the issues presented in the film: marginalized indigenous women; sex work; addictions and substance abuse; systemic urban poverty, and more. Maybe it’s a lot harder to treat an indigenous sex worker as a fictitious and marginal problem when, like our protagonist, she mixes the truths of her difficult life with her insistent humanity. Maybe the impoverished passers-by, who seem to unknowingly dance along with our protagonist, have stories of their own to tell, and maybe they would tell them if their poverty did not systematically silence them. Maybe, when the film ends and the lights come up, we shouldn’t treat what we’ve seen as an isolated fiction: instead, maybe we should walk out of the screening, into the streets of our own cities, and do something about it. That sure sounds like a CP doc to me. -- Dan Leberg (Programming Coordinator)


Cinema Politica films can be tough to market in most cases as they are not always exactly in the feel-good and light-weight category. Yet, again and again we are drawn to these films as they tend to challenge us with a different viewpoint while embracing complicated, intimate, yet universal issues. They are films about personal choices and the consequences of those. Through the lens of CP filmmakers we can recognize ourselves, our families and friends: our strength but our shortcomings too. Cinema Politica films tend to test and expand our limits of empathy and understanding of the human psyche by providing us with intimate portraits of others’ lived experiences.

IN THE TURN by Erica Trembley does just exactly that by showing us the journey of 10-year-old Canadian transgender girl Crystal who is bullied at school but then embraced for who she is by the kick-arse Vagine Regime - an international queer collective of roller derby players. It’s not only Crystal and her mom who are empowered but us, viewers as well: the support and understanding Crystal and her mother receive from the welcoming, strong and diverse LGBTQ community makes us too better human beings, as parents, students, activists, neighbours and family members, deepening our understanding and acceptance of others - for who they are. -- (Adrienn Lukács, Associate Programmer and Acquisitions Booking Coordinator)


The most frightening and revealing CP doc this fall was the American film DO NOT RESIST directed by Craig Atkinson. The filmmaker had great access to the inner workings of an ever militarized police force because his own father is a retired policeman. The film is built around the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement and uncovers the layers of disinformation and prejudice, racism and injustice in the US police and incarceration industry. It truly is one of the best documentaries of 2016. -- Arshad Khan (Network Programmer)


Few documentaries in 2016 evoked such a warm, open and positive response from our audiences as Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's TUNNIIT. At Concordia 700 people lept to their feet for one of our most legendary standing ovations - honouring this passionate, personal and provocative film. TUNNIIT follows Arnaquq-Baril as she traces the history of Inuit face tattoos - the practice's origins, how colonizing forces whiped it out, and the resurgence currently bringing this unique cultural tradition back. For Arnaquq-Baril it is a personal story as she looks to elders past and to herself, ultimately deciding to rekindle the practice on her own body. It is a profound story of cultural embodiment, of the resistance and resilience against colonization, and of standing for something that has deep meaning and community reverberations. It is a film that is transformative in the ways it teaches while provoking, all the while making an intense emotional impact as well. I hope this film is seen by as many Canadians as possible over its lifetime - we will all be the more richer for it. -- Ezra Winton (Co-founder and Director of Programming)


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