Commffest, the global community film festival that makes its home in the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) and the area immediately around the St. Lawrence Market, entered its seventh year of existence.
The documentary film festival tries to make a difference at community level by exploring social and cultural issues—and given that its founder Sandie de Freitas is a soft-spoken, breath-taking ball of energy, it is much more than a film festival.
It also incorporates panels after every film, a parallel conference on community activism through film, filmmaking workshops, a youth education program, and the Making A Difference Award (MADA) program. Entries are juried from around the world via Internet.
“I used to work for a film distribution company in the ‘90s,” de Freitas says. “My job was to screen films to understand what they were about so we could market them to broadcasters and educational agencies.
“And I came across all these fascinating independent films that no one ever heard of. They weren’t mainstream and they were never going to be mainstream. So I said to myself, there’s got to be a way to get these out to the public.”
The Sept. 21 opening evening took place on Market St.
The films presented that evening were themed around the War of 1812, one of them produced by St. Lawrence-area Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC).
According to de Freitas, the panel discussions are a vital element that gives Commffest momentum. “The panel discussions become very lively and animated and people take away a sense of awareness so it becomes a classroom for everyone.”
Much of the material moves into emotionally raw territory, and courts controversy by nature.
De Freitas is expecting the discussion around one of this year’s films to be considerably more acerbic than usual: Toronto filmmaker Esther Buckareff has entered Powerful As God—The Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario, screened Sept. 23.
The Commffest website notes: “The film navigates truth by coordinating 26 witnesses into conversation with each other. (It) incorporates diverse experiences from people whose lives were tragically affected by the agency’s actions with professionals who have worked directly with the Children’s Aid, such as doctors, social workers and lawyers.”
The film has already been the subject of a complaint from the Children’s Aid Society to Ryerson University earlier this year, a complaint which, according to the director’s website www.blakout.ca, was not accommodated by Ryerson.
Buckareff is a recent Masters’ graduate in documentary filmmaking from Ryerson. She describes the eight-or-nine-month process of research as emotionally very difficult: “It wiped me out.”
“I fostered a couple of children at one point in my life and I realized that there was something terribly wrong with the system,” Buckareff says. She was unable to obtain interviews with any officials in the CAS and its associated agencies.
Commffest is planning to invite Ontario minister of children and youth services Dr. Eric Hoskins and Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.
This year’s Commffest took place from Sept. 21 to Sept. 25. Screenings were held at PAL, the Rainbow Cinema in Market Square, and in a closed-off section of Market St.
For information visit www.commffest.com. Tickets are $10 per screening.