Cinema Politica’s (CP) mandate centers on the support for and promotion of socially-engaged independently-produced film and video, with an emphasis on works by under-represented artists working in the country presently called Canada. Cinema Politica’s curatorial process and resulting programs correspond to the organization’s overarching mandate. That is to say, the films we select for screening in our network (across Canada and the world) serve as champions of and explorations and interventions into progressive politics, public policy, nonfiction radical moving-image aesthetics and social justice movements.
How our Programming and Curatorial Process Works
Cinema Politica’s programming and curatorial process is complex and time-consuming, as we are committed to practicing what we call “screen equity” despite the additional time and labour such a process requires. Films are submitted to us throughout the year, often following our Calls for Submissions (for both general programming and our sidebar programs such as First Peoples, First Screens). Films are also suggested to us by local CP chapters, filmmaking and activist communities, and from members of our Programming Committee (which is made up of Associate Programmers and volunteers). CP programmers, board members and support staff also conduct research and request preview copies of films of interest. By “screen equity” we mean our organizational culture whereby potential films are evaluated and assessed based on their content quality and on who made them and the relationship the artist has with the community being represented. We feel that this commitment to privileging strong relational ties between artists and subjects has resulted in a very robust, diverse program of films that circulate in the network year after year.
Three times a year CP brings together our Senior Programmers (currently comprised of Svetla Turnin, Ezra Winton and Programming Coordinator Sarah Foulkes) and our volunteer Programming Committee (made up of volunteer filmmakers, curators, and film enthusiasts) in order to meet, discuss and decide upon our seasonal program (Fall, Winter and Summer). In these meetings we discuss and debate the “Long List” of potential films that have been scored highly by at least one Senior Programmer and one volunteer programmer. Films are selected in these meetings based on consensus, and from time to time some films are flagged to move laterally to community programmers who are consulted because they are stakeholder members directly affected by issues in a particular film.
Once the selections are made from the Long List at these meetings, a Short List is advanced to the CP network locals, who then indicate if they are interested in screening films or not. If a film from the Short List receives a significant amount of local interest it advances to the next stage, when we conduct a “diversity scan” of the remainder of the list. At this point we look at the diversity of the filmmakers (from ethnicity to class to country of origin), of the issues (environmentalism, war, gender, sexuality, ability, etc) and of the film’s context (budget size, experience of the filmmaker, filmmaking process, struggle against censors and gatekeepers, etc). From this list we then approach rights holders for public performance screening rights, and the resulting program is made up of films that CP was able to afford (those that usually fall into the screening fees suggested by arts councils and CARFAC in Canada). Films that are dropped but highly rated initially are entered into a secondary list, for consideration in the next round.
Our Programming Mandate and Curatorial Vision
Cinema Politica is first and foremost interested in supporting under-represented perspectives, voices and stories. What follows is a set of loose guidelines and criteria that help orient our programming process, mandate and curatorial vision and application. It is not meant to be a strict or dogmatic set of rules – our programmers keep these guideposts in mind from initial preview to selection consensus at programming meetings.
Theme & Politics
We look for new or recent films about social justice, collective empowerment, community mobilization, structural or systemic critique, alternative and progressive world-building, explorations of non-hegemonic identity, under-represented lives, political and alternative histories.
We are interested in films about Canadian stories, people and places; about cultural resistance, and critiques of structures of power and oppression.
We are particularly interested in films about Indigenous, LGBTQQPI2SA, BIPOC* individuals/communities and women.
We ask the questions: Does the film considered lend itself to social mobilization and community use? Does the film tell stories engaged in socio-politics/culture in a creatively compelling and imaginatively robust way?
We are interested in vintage films that deserve re-discovery, re-contextualization, revitalization, restoration and re-circulation.
We look for films that confront and expose White Supremacy, racism, ableism, heteronormativity, homonormativity, misogyny, patriarchy, fascism, colonialism and border imperialism.
We favour innovative and unorthodox approaches to documentary truth-telling.
We seek to program films that are accessible, engaging and activating or mobilizing.
We are interested in films that name names (of abusers, especially corporate) and take risks; that focus on concrete and specific case studies; that include subjective and local perspectives, lived experiences and voices.
We program films that avoid the sensational, the rhetorical, the sentimental, the self-aggrandizing and the moralistic approach or tone.
We are keen to support innovations of form, including hybridity and genre-blurring.
We ask: Will a film under consideration be part of an affirming audience experience? Will its form alienate the community most impacted or will it lend itself to that community’s interests? We look for an aesthetics of beauty, pleasure and playfulness as well as seriousness and critique.
We look for a balance between expressions of creativity and the airing of investigation and information – finding balance, as we say, “between a painting and a pamphlet.”
We seek films made with, from or for communities instead of only about communities.
In championing independent documentary, we look for films where filmmakers’ editorial control is justifiably negotiated with its funding context, and where appropriate editorial approval by documentary subjects is a considered factor.
We ask: Does a film representing (or purporting to represent) vulnerable subjects and/or communities benefit those subjects and communities? Does a film put in any way vulnerable subjects and/or communities at risk without their consent? Practices ensuring confidentiality of non-consenting subjects are of course favoured, but in our estimation, these need to be balanced with other ethical and political goals.
We favour transparency and self-reflexivity behind the camera and on screen, for example around dramatization or filmmaker position.
We seek to support filmmaking that is grounded in progressive politics and reciprocal relationship-building, where traditional asymmetrical power hierarchies are not upheld, but rather challenged and quashed through fair, just and balanced ethical filmmaking practices.