Super Size Me, An Inconvenient Truth and March of the Penguins are all fantastic movies based in and on reality. If you’ve never watched National Geographic specials or the Discovery channel, documentaries are about telling it like it is. They take important topics and combine them with a flair for storytelling, but include such precious little stylism or special effects as to make Michael Bay stand around hopelessly lost with a sad, vacant look on his blockbuster-driven face.
While the world of the documentary film has certainly changed in recent years, Edmonton’s Global Visions Film Festival has been there through it all and it’s still going strong. For three decades, it has been on the Edmonton scene and is now considered Canada’s longest running documentary film festival.
Now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, organizers and filmmakers alike are looking forward to the 2012 crop of two dozen new, well-produced documentaries, which began being screened Wednesday morning.
It hasn’t always been an easy ride and the festival was in danger of folding its tent at one point. But it survives partly because the festival offers something special.
“It’s a unique festival,” said Tonia LaRiviere, Global Visions public relations co-ordinator. “It was unique when it started and it’s unique now.”
She explained that the popularity of documentaries has expanded thanks to opinionated filmmakers with a social agenda like Michael Moore (Roger & Me and Fahrenheit 9/11) and Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold). The heart of documentaries is still the same though: to teach the audience about a subject or to commit something important to the historical record.
In LaRiviere’s eyes, that’s just the beginning.
“This festival is so much more than just documentaries. It’s about a community and bringing awareness to people about our world and other parts of the world that we don’t get to see in commercial cinema. With that community, we have a group of people who are interested in making change in the world.”
Hot on the heels of Sunday’s Academy Awards, the festival is dedicated to presenting socially relevant films from around the world that explore issues of social, economic and environmental development. Where the world of Hollywood wants viewers to escape and mindlessly dissociate away from the cares of everyday life, Global Visions wants viewers to think, to understand, to talk and to take action.
Behind the scenes
This small world is full of seven billion people. In many ways, it is getting smaller and there’s a growing awareness that, as diverse as we are, we are still interconnected and interdependent citizens of the global village.
The four-day festival of Global Visions is meant to be like one campfire that allows Metro Edmontonians the chance to hear about what’s going on in the hidden corners of the world.
According to the festival’s website, it’s a small cog in the movement to bring us all even closer together.
Programming director Guy Lavallee hopes to entice, entertain and entrust local audiences with the filmic kind of worldly education that you can only get by seeking it out. He’s the guy who seeks these things out in the first place and is the main filter for what documentary is worth making it onto the schedule.
“I love documentaries! I’ve always been a huge fan. Global Visions also has a bit more of a focused mandate on social issues, environmental, political subject matters … they might tackle some issues, but it’s okay to entertain people.”
Lavallee added that local programmers are always mindful to not lose the audience once it settles down into the theatre.
“It’s really important that people come out and really like what they saw. It’s trying to find that balance of some films that had some serious subject matter but also counterbalancing that with some films that got the point across while also really not bludgeoning you over the head with it.”
If you look at the festival’s website, however, it seems like the main goal is to have the public pick up an intellectual gauntlet.
“We aim to challenge our audiences to think about the world we live in and our personal and shared responsibility to the planet and each other. We believe film and filmmakers can help make a positive, transformative change in people’s lives, and value the importance of discussion and community involvement,” it says.
The festival includes workshops, panel discussions and a youth media day (happening today) to provoke that kind of interactive interest.
Realism vs. escapism: a first-hand perspective
“There are so many stories around the world that we don’t get to see or experience. Documentaries are a way of doing that,” LaRiviere stated.
It was her thirst for the kind of knowledge that documentaries provide so well that got her involved with Global Visions.
“This festival was a life-changing experience for me. It made me understand the world. It changed my relationships. It brought an awareness to me that I didn’t have before … seeing how one person can make change.”
LaRiviere has seen some of the current crop of films on the schedule but one stuck out in her mind for its impact.
“For me, The Whale was a very emotional story. The fact that this whole story was documented is incredible; it was so special to have that.”
One of the films being screened is by local filmmaker Frederick Kroetsch. His film, Journeys of Hope, is about his attendance with the East African Orphanage Mission, a part of A Better World Canada’s 2011 trip to Kenya.
“I don’t have a lot of experience doing projects beyond the five-minute mark so this was really intimidating. I came back with 24 hours worth of footage. I shot everything with two camera systems and I edited everything entirely myself.”
Even though he has only been back from the adventure for about two months, he managed to edit and submit his 47-minute work that will be screened on Friday. Kroetsch himself will be in attendance to field questions afterward.
The convenient facts
The 30th annual Global Visions Film Festival takes place tomorrow through Sunday. The 27 documentaries will receive screenings at Edmonton venues including the Art Gallery of Alberta, Metro Cinema (in the Garneau Theatre building) and the downtown Empire Theatre (located in City Centre Mall).
Tickets are $12 each or $10 for students and seniors. A festival pass is $75 and the opening night gala on Thursday is $18 per person. Doors open at 7 p.m.
A political panel called What’s Your Global Vision? – Alberta Leaders on the Role of Alberta and The World will take place Thursday at 3 p.m. in the ballroom at the Sutton Place Hotel. Admission by donation.
A Meet the Filmmakers brunch will take place from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Join Meagan Kelly (Grace), Kirk Palayan (Bhopali), Mark Power (Sacred Cinema) and Charles Wilkinson (Peace Out) for an intimate dialogue about the craft of documentary filmmaking.
For a complete schedule of films and screenings, including question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, or to learn more about the festival in general, call 780-414-1052 or visit www.globalvisionsfestival.com.