Enriched by a community screening..Docs for Change!

It was a nice Saturday evening and I went to attend the documentary screening of Deepa Mehta’s “Lets Talk About It” just to show my support to MCIS Language Services’ Doc fellow, Roxanna Nastase, and our DOC Program Manager Sree Nallamothu, both of whom were hosting it. However, I came away enriched and quite exhilarated.

All I knew ahead was that this was a screening at a low income neighhourhood, 100 Lotherton Pathway in North York. It seemed like we had to drive forever on Lawrence Avenue West to get to our destination. Finally we hit Caledonia Street and turned into 100 Lotherton, a residential condo, tucked away in relative obscurity. I had been to this part of Toronto, pre law school, when working as a welfare worker for about six months. There had been no reason, since, to experience a slice of life among this cross section of the population. I always bemoan the fact that my life follows a set pattern giving me little reason or opportunity to veer from its mundane path. I therefore was truly grateful for this chance.

We arrived late because I did not know if we were at the right location and had to make a few phone calls to figure out where exactly in this residential building the screening was being held. When we finally made it in, we were ushered into a crowded space on the ground floor beside the elevator. It served as a meeting place for the building’s residents and consisted of two rooms with an attached toilet. Although, this was a private condominium, it appeared degraded and in need of urgent work which the residents could ill afford. The smell of stale food hung heavily in the air. We joined the 30 odd people squeezed into the inner room watching the film which was projected onto the wall. In the adjoining room the hosts had provided an array of refreshments which were laid out on two tables. There were fruits, muffins, pastries, pita and dip, coffee and hot chocolate for people to help themselves to. But no one stirred till the film was done.

After the film concluded, the attendees helped themselves to food and drink and then gathered once again to engage in a conversation about this film on domestic violence. They were mostly West Indian and ranged in ages from 30 to 80. There were only 3 men. Samuel Park, who wears many hats as MCIS Training Facilitator, Korean Interpreter and a Community Worker was there as an expert panelist to engage with folks and to moderate the discussion. Also present was Tara Bootan a community worker who is involved in an initiative called the Action for Neighbourhood Change in this, one of Toronto City’s 31 priority (high needs) neighbourhoods, which though vibrant, is ridden with poverty related issues.

Samuel started the conversation by framing the subject matter well. He highlighted the film-maker’s unique approach to the topic of domestic violence through the eyes of the affected children. Deepa Mehta has used an interesting approach, filming the children’s videotaped interviews of their parents where they ask them why they had done what they had. In some instances the interviewed parent is the abuser and in others, the victim. Our discussion was kicked off by a male audience member who remarked that the film was biased and that abuse was gender neutral. Samuel handled that comment cleverly by pointing to overwhelming statistics pertaining to women being the victims and then sought comments from others. At this point the women began to speak up and I was astounded by their clarity and their feminist analyses as they spoke of their experiences leaving abusive relationships, and of helping others who had decided to. They spoke about tricky situations they encountered where they did not know what the right response or course of action was and suggested that they be provided some training handling these situations in their community. They talked about the need to form informal community networks that women could reach out to, when close family did not offer the requisite support fearful of the “shame” it would bring them. They talked about elder abuse and the need for a different approach to ensure the safety and dignity of seniors in precarious situations, uncared for, either living by themselves or within extended families.

I have been to several conferences on domestic and sexual violence and have listened to academics speak about their community based research. However, I have never been as impressed as with these women who moved me with their passion, pragmatism and powerful voices. They are the women in the trenches confronting these difficult issues every day and reaching out and supporting each other with compassion, courage and caring. Samuel did an amazing job, elevating the quality of the discussion so sticky and nuanced issues were explored. After coming home, I researched this neighbourhood and found out that a model community is emerging where the residents are actively involved in community capacity building. Several of the participants at today’s screening had in fact voluntarily assumed leadership roles (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/unitedway/2011/10/14/building_pride_and_a_sense_of_place.html). Sree and Tara had picked an appropriate venue for the screening of a film that could mobilise people around thoughtful movements in communities. I came away gratified with MCIS’ role in making these screenings happen and determined to think of ways in which to engage this cross-section of women in future solutions to address this complex issue in our work at MCIS.

Thanks to the Trillium Foundation for their support of this amazing project which is igniting several such conversations in the City as we continue on with these screenings to the end of this year! Those in Toronto, please come out and attend our free screenings and engage in some awesome conversations!

Check out the schedule at http://www.documentariesforchange.org/

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