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Global Politics Reflected on Screen

World Cinema Programmer Sachin Gandhi explores how this year, more than ever, the world films playing at this year’s Calgary International Film Festival reflect contemporary economic, social and political realities.

These films go beyond the headlines by illustrating fully realized multidimensional characters and providing an intimate look at events in different cities around the globe. Even though each film stands strongly on its own, many are linked by a few common themes: forced displacement of people, economic hardships facing individuals and nations, women fighting for their rights and freedom and topics of morality and honesty. In addition, these diverse world films also highlight an evolution in cinematic storytelling. Some of these works have taken conventional genres (such as Western, noir, thriller) and elevated them with a fresh new perspective.

The displacement and movement of refugees has made headlines around the world and impacted the foreign policies of a few nations. Three world films and two documentaries at this year’s Calgary International Film Festival illustrate the topic of refugees from the micro to the macro level; these films showcase individual stories and also document the plight of millions. RESEBA is based on a true story and shows how a community can be displaced due to terrorism and war. The film shows with a great degree of realism how ordinary people can lose everything in an instant and be forced to live in refugee camps. The Turkish film MORE focuses on the journey of refugees as it shows how they are smuggled into mainland Europe. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE presents the next leg of the refugee journey and depicts the bureaucratic, cultural and language problems refugees face when they arrive in their Western European destination. These three films form a complete narrative arc that shows us each stage of the journey of the characters. In addition, two documentaries, 69 MINUTES OF 86 DAYS and HUMAN FLOW, bring an overarching perspective to the refugee migration. Filmed in 23 different countries, HUMAN FLOW takes the individual stories depicted in RESEBA, MORE and THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE and superimposes their stories with those of millions of others from around the world.

Wars aren’t the only reason people are forced to leave their countries. For many, it could be the loss of jobs or the desire to embark on a new career. The Portuguese film THE NOTHING FACTORY shows how a factory closure in Portugal forces many people out of a job. The film poses many questions about where the characters may go for their next job. That question is partly answered by WESTERN in which its characters leave Germany to find construction work in Bulgaria. NOBODY’S WATCHING approaches the movement of a character to a new nation from a different perspective. In the film, the main character leaves his native Argentina for New York to reinvent his career. However, his character struggles to gain a foothold in New York and his plight mirrors that of many new immigrants who struggle to find work in a new country.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN, CLOSENESSFÉLICITÉ, LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA, MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS and THE DIVINE ORDER showcase female characters that must fight for their basic rights and freedom. The characters in these six films live in various countries and range in age yet they are strong and reflect traits of each other. Their dreams may be unique but the onus is on these women to fend for themselves and show tremendous grit to survive or earn their right to work for a living.

The concept of morality and honesty is highlighted in a few world films but really takes centre stage in EL AMPARO and THE NIGHT GUARD. In these two films, the main characters are pressured to not tell the truth and are instead encouraged to go along with what the officials claim as reality. These two films show that it takes bravery for individuals to fight for the truth even if it comes at a personal price. What happens if everyone ignores their moral compass and acts as they please? The Chinese film HAVE A NICE DAY gives us one answer where all characters go on a hunt for money and kill, rob as they see fit. The film shows us a corrupt and lawless world where no one is safe.

All these world films don’t exist in isolation from North America. In fact, they have direct implications on our lives here. The displacement of millions of people, including refugees from Syria, has turned into a political hot topic in both Canada and USA. The struggle for women’s identity is still relevant in our Western society. Often it appears that newspaper headlines are negative with regards to topics of refugees or economic hardships but these films are infused with plenty of hope and offer examples that show all is not lost. These films humanize their characters and contain precious moments which brilliantly reinforce the human spirit and ability to survive. These moments can be an improvised music scene (MORE), a helping hand to fix a broken fridge (FÉLICITÉ) or a kind offer of a job and warm food (THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE). As simple as these gestures are, they lessen the tension of the characters and allow them to take the first step towards hope for a better future.

Tickets to all the films discussed above are now available. To see multiple films for the best value consider purchasing a festival 10 or 20-pack of tickets. 

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