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Unless it isn’t, NorthwestFest’s in-person event starts at Metro Cinema Thursday — the documentary film fest being Canada’s oldest, stretching back to 1983 under various names.
Delayed from April and then turned into a small, online event to send some sugar water down the hamster nozzle to pandemic-boxed-in film fans later in the spring, festival director Guy Lavallee has gotten quite matter-of-fact — and rather agile — about the fact Alberta’s rising, “personal responsibility”-coronavirus numbers might bump the entire festival off the map again, depending on renewed gathering restrictions from the province.
“If that happens,” he says, “that’s it,” meaning the festival will not immediately switch to an online version.
And while all-access passes are still available for $75 — a four pack also a good deal for $40 (those who bought passes for the April version should be getting an email with a code) — he shrugs, “I feel like people will probably just be buying individual tickets, which is great — you know, anything to support us and Metro Cinema is appreciated.”
The 500-seat theatre is limited to 100 tickets per show as of Tuesday.
But while I’m writing this before American election night and whatever shenanigans that followed, it’s not my habit these days to let potential future scenarios poison the zen present: awareness over negative assumption is typically a happier place.
And so, in the event the festival continues at least partway through its redeploy into Rainbow Visions LGBTQ Film Festival’ usual week — they are sister festivals now conjoined through Nov. 5-15 — we are, as ever, in store for a wonderfully curated lineup of focused digging and inspirational, impressionistic journalism.
Opening night is Kelly Wolfert’s SpiderMabel — A Real Life Superhero Story, and (given the plague) this is the only night with a Q&A afterwards. Friday night is two biopics: I Am Greta and Open Your Mouth and Say Mr. Chi Pig, another step towards a large mural we’ll soon see in town and, fingers crossed and pretty please, Chi Pig Day being declared by our earnest mayor.
On Saturday the lineup widens to include Alzheimer’s story When All That’s Left Is Love; suicide prevention doc Wake Up; No Visible Trauma about Calgary Police Service’s municipally high shoot-and-kill stats; and Pandora’s Box, which I’ll talk about in a second.
Further films on the list at northwestfest.ca include Insert Coin about the video game industry; climate justice film The Condor & the Eagle; the soon-to-be infamous Minneapolis Police Department explored in a documentary called Women in Blue; and Eddy’s Kingdom, about Canada’s first terrorist, Eddy Haymour. Rainbow Visions’ documentary subjects include leather enthusiasts, the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles and, in The Dilemma of Desire, an acknowledgement that women are, duh, beings with sexual desire.
But back to Pandora’s Box, subtitled Lifting the Lid on Menstruation. This film is, simply put, amazing. Rebecca Snow’s transnational examination of period politics takes us to Brooklyn, Mumbai, Nairobi and London among other locales, discussing the still somehow verboten and triggering subject of a simple biological function that not one of us would be here without.
Over in Kenya, some girls are so shamed of menstruation they drop out of school forever, while in the United States it took the hard work of dedicated activists to remove just some state “luxury goods” sales taxes from feminine hygiene products which otherwise exempt marshmallows, fruit roll-ups and gun club memberships … and, of course, Viagra.
The fast-paced and country-hopping doc successfully and yet somehow chipperly sculpts its larger subject of intentional suppression, including quoting from Christian, Muslim and Hindu texts which various accuse and sequester women for their monthly cycle. In some places, besides not being allowed to enter a temple, menstruating women are not allowed to, wait for it, touch pickles.
Over in the UK, the film notes how people who can barely afford food also can’t afford these products, piling shame upon shame. And with a hush-hush attitude in India, Sarika Gupta, now an activist, noted when she had her first period, “I thought, ‘I have cancer,’” because no one had educated her in advance.
In its tangents, always getting to the same point, the film looks at the American prison system, which can boast the largest population of female prisoners on Earth, and in some places makes women buy pad kits at $7, when they earn on average $10 a month. It all follows a path back to ancient history when “moon time” was blamed for the sinking of ships and the destruction of crops.
Whenever a government builds walls on this battlefront, you know they’re hoping to turn the clock back on women’s rights. The film plays 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Metro.
But if it turns out the festival can’t happen, Lavallee admits, “OK, we actually have a plan to do something in the coming months. And, to make sure to do well by the filmmakers, we’ll reprogram as many of the films as we can in April.”
Check northwestfest.ca for the latest reality, and see you at Metro — sooner or later!