Townshop residents in South Africa connect to power grid. From The Big Sellout.
Cinema Politica is the name of a program of screenings which was started at Concordia University in Montreal by Ezra Winton and the Uberculture media arts non-profit five years ago, and which has branched out to a number of other cities on the North American continent and even overseas. Its list of screeings reads like a roll call of the best of recent sociopolitical documentaries: Loose Change, The Corporation, Crude Impact, Seeing is Beleiving, McLibel, The Big Sellout....OK now I can hear my webmestre Kim saying ‘you should have links to these movies.’ But actually, they are all there on the Cinema Politica website, along with many other great films, so check them, out.
The Cinema Politica screenings in Monteal have been a huge success. The two or three screenings I went to last year were attended by about five hundred people. There is a real thirst and enthusiasm out there for political docs, for films that are hard to find on TV. But now, sadly, Cinema Politica’s survival is threatened by a funding crisis. It is really essential for this series of screenings to continue ! I put a few questions to Ezra Winton.
How did Cinema Politica start and how long has it been running ?
I started it in 2001 at Langara College and it eventually migrated
with me to Concordia where it was renewed in 2003. I started in order
a) address the incredible lack of diversity in Canadian movie theatres
b) help build audiences and support independent Canadian documentary
c) use film to inspire audiences (especially students) into actions
around social justice and cultural participation.
How did it expand to other cities ?
People have been to the Concordia events or heard about them and know
how hugely successful we are there. They then contact us and we help
them set up in their communities. They are emboldened by the Concordia
success and want to be part of a network that can hopefully breed that
kind of political cinema energy, and they get a lot of support from us
in the way of licensing costs, website support, etc.
Programming is terrific, how does it work ?
Thanks! I’ve been the programmer for five years at Concordia, and
every year I make suggestions to the 30+ locals in Canada and Europe
on films I think are excellent, but ultimately the other locals do
their own programming. As for how I select, it’s about the quality of
filmmaking, the level of commitment to the politics (ie, films that
take a stand or illustrate a stand), and diversity. I think that our
screenings have resonated with students at Concordia especially,
because every week they know they will experience cinema that is
politically, geographically, and issue-oriented diverse. We even throw
in the odd fiction feature and short to keep things interesting. I
should also mention that my partner, Svetla Turnin, plays a big part
in helping me sort out the gems we will screen from the 100+
acquisitions and submissions I go through every year.
With such an incredibly successful initiative ( when I was there, there were 400-600 people) can you not finance it with ticket sales ?
Part of the mandate of our parent organization (non-profit
überculture) is to promote the media arts to new audiences and to
ensure accessibility. We therefore have asked that none of the locals
charge admission. We do ask for donations, and raise a bit at each
screening that way. The Concordia CP also has its own funding
apparatus – a fee levy that all students pay into, amounting to 2
cents per credit and giving the series almost the budget it needs to
clear great films and bring in speakers. This kind of “collective
payment” method works wonderfully at that one local, our flagship
local, but the funds need to stay there. Funding the rest of the
network is the problem we face. Basically, for $40,000 a year as a
base minimum, we could get a phone and hire a coordinator to keep
things going. With more, we could build the biggest and most active
alternative distribution and exhibition network for documentary and
independent political cinema Canada has seen. For now, we’ve been
running the network on $5,000 per year, thanks to CitizenShift’s
ongoing support and faith in the project.
What happened with Canada Council funding ? Any explanations ?
It’s the second time we’ve been turned down. This time the jury
recommended we get funded and had comments that were all incredibly
positive. They even commented that they couldn’t believe we had
survived so long on volunteer labour!! Unfortunately the jury ranked
us so low the money in the envelope ran out by the time they got to
us. We are actually a bit shocked, as there was even an alternative
video distribution person and a doc filmmaker on the jury….We know
it’s not the Council’s fault, but I am starting to realize how
documentary is discriminated against in the media arts world when it
comes to funding. So many people told us that the jury would love us
(the grant was for organizational funding, exactly what we need) that
we kind of held our breath thinking we’d get it. We are now left with
the option of finding $30,000 to 40,000 over the summer or shutting
down the project. We are discussing a Network membership fee for
locals that would be instituted in the fall and be sliding scale. DOC
has also contacted me to have a meeting later this month, but I know
DOC is not like Toronto International Film Festival – not a lot of money to throw around. So, if
anyone has ideas or access to suitcases of cash, please contact us!
The wind is gone from our sails, but I guess we’re not sunk yet.
Thanks Ezra, keep up the good work !
Ezra also publishes aa news and resources blog and website on Canadian
independent cinema called “Canada Screens” – http://www.canadascreens.ca