SJIWFF25 – FRIDAY!

Hello Internet, today is Friday, October 17th, and I have definitely made up for missing out on all the screenings over the last three days. It was a 4-screening doc-and-short-stravaganza!

Today’s festival experience started at noon with Web Junkie, a documentary about a rehabilitation centre for internet-addicted teenagers in China. In the words of the director of the facility, it’s not certain that what these children experience is actually classifiable as an addiction, but it is clear that it has an effect on their lives: many of them have dropped out of school, or go for days without any substantial food or sleep. Tricked or drugged by their desperate parents, they find themselves in a locked ward that is half prison and half boot camp.

We are introduced to a handful of the boys at this facility by their online gaming handles – an interesting choice, considering that none of these boys are allowed to play those games – and get a glimpse into their lives, through drills, routines, skill-building, and family therapy, where we see the various possible causes of this problem. A relatively benign explanation could be that in a society of only children, more of them are lonely, and when lonely, they turn to an online community. A more uncomfortable cause is the parental neglect – or abuse – exposed in each of “our” boys’ lives.

A particularly memorable episode in the doc involves an exploration of “isolation therapy”, which bears a striking resemblance to solitary confinement: regularly proved to be one of the most traumatic punishments commonly doled out in North American prisons. In the grated-windows-and-locked-doors context of these boys’ lives, listening to the facility director recommend that each child spend some time in isolation to provide a period of self-reflection rubs a little wrong.

Next up on the docket was Fed Up, a Katie Couric-narrated documentary about the role of processed food in the worldwide obesity epidemic. In contrast to Web Junkie, which was made in China by an Israeli filmmaker, Fed Up is jarringly American, both in the use of national US statistics, and in its argumentative tone. It is both documentary and food campaign, and you can read more about it at their website, but if you’ve been paying attention to the trends and science in nutrition, this is not really new information, just an emphasis on a particular facet of the discussion: chiefly, that refined sugar and sweeteners are poison. Many fingers are pointed, and the end thesis seems to be “eat real food” and “write your congressman,” which are more or less self-evident things for me, and thus a bit disappointing, especially in contrast with a much more challenging film earlier in the day.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Kristie Jamieson of the Food Security Network, Dave Sullivan, CBC columnist and blogger at The Narcissist’s Revenge (who was wearing a pair of really excellent green running shoes, by the way, which I thought was fitting), and Dr. Laurie Twells, who is an obesity sociologist with MUN. Dr. Twells kicked off the panel by pointing out the one-sidedness of the doc, and making an argument for calories in v. calories out. Dave talked a bit about his experience with food addiction, and Kristina plugged the work that the Food Security Network has been doing to improve school lunches through a pilot project at St. Bonaventure’s.

I had to sneak out before the discussion was over, unfortunately. I had to go eat supper. And I admit that I had a cupcake for dessert. Because FRIDAY, that’s why.

My evening started with 9 short films, and I couldn’t possibly give you a run down on all of them, but let me say that Papa, by Natalie Labarre, was a shining star of a short. It is 6 minutes of pure joy and laughter, and a tiny piece of heartbreak. And a fast shout-out to the team behind Quelle Affaire, who made a little film based on the lovely Danielle Devereaux’s poem the day after a multi-day blackout using an iPhone and only natural light. It is a sweet little 3 minutes.

The final screening of the day (bringing my total screening time today up to 6 hours) was Ukraine is not a Brothel, which somewhat continued the non-fiction part of today’s our-children-are-doomed trend. This one is actually brilliant – and you should read about it here.

The subject of this doc is FEMEN, the contradictory women’s rights movement based out of the Ukraine that protests by having gorgeous women strip from the waist up in public. I was curious about this movement before I saw the film – they occasionally make international headlines by getting themselves arrested in a country not their own – and I am generally for social protest, especially social protest that breaks down gender-based taboos, but there has always been something about this group that made me a bit uneasy.

After watching the doc (very little of which I will tell you about because I want you to find a way to see it for yourselves), I feel precisely as uneasy as I had before, but with more information. I am more for it, and I am also more opposed to it. It is not a simple movement, and has me thinking about marketing for social change, making an impact, making money from social activism and branding along with the patriarchy’s role in the women’s movement. A tip of the hat to this film for making me think all those things. I’m pretty sure that’s what docs are meant to do.