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Using film to create action Thirteenth annual Marda Loop Justice Film Festival kicks off important conversation

On November 13 at the new Central Library, the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival celebrated the opening night of its 13th year with a screening of the documentary “Bird of Prey” followed by a discussion with local naturalist Brian Keating.

“When you look at a film like this, it shows the kind of dedication that a couple people have in bringing to the world an absolutely profound animal,” said Keating. He added that it’s a wake-up call for all of us because we have the same problem of habitat loss in Canada.

The film is a beautiful but heart-wrenching documentary about the plight of the Philippine Eagle, one of the most critically endangered birds on the planet, and those that are working to keep it from extinction.

“We hope to do some good in the world by showing stories that matter,” said Jenny Krabbe, one of the original founders of the festival, during an opening speech.

The Marda Loop Justice Film Festival was started in 2006 by a group of teachers from Marda Loop, with a goal of providing a platform for Calgarians to gain awareness of social justice issues through film and discussion.

Another goal of the festival is to bring these issues and discussions to the public free of charge, making the film festival one of the best value events to attend in the city.

“We don’t charge any money to our festival goers, with the belief that information and education should be free,” said Thao Nguyen-Bettle, president of the film festival’s board of directors.

The original festival was held 13 years ago at the River Park Church Auditorium, but over the years it has grown to include a few special event screenings at more high-profile locations like the Central Library and the Plaza Theatre.

This year, the festival screened 19 documentaries surrounding three major social justice themes: environmental conservation, gender equality and women’s rights, and U.S. politics and diversity.

“Although many of the films are heavy and challenging, it’s a chance to pick from a number of issues, and it gives you the opportunity to find the one that you connect with most,” said Nguyen-Bettle.

Another important feature of the festival is the Peace Village, located at all of the River Park Church screenings, which is a collection organizations and non-profits that can provide more information on topics presented in the films.

“We want to not only have people to see the films, but also take action after the film,” said Nguyen-Bettle, noting that often it’s difficult to turn awareness into action from attendees.

The festival lineup screened many international socially-conscious documentaries, but two Canadian films were at the centre of this year’s program.

The film “Lana Gets Her Talk” was shot in Edmonton, and discusses Canada’s residential school legacy, and its effects on Indigenous communities. Lana Whiskeyjack, a Cree artist and subject of the film, was also featured in a post-film discussion.

The second Canadian made film was “Through My Eyes: Hani’s Journey”, a film about a Syrian refugee coming to Canada, and the challenges he faces.

“It’s important that we’re screening films that are current and controversial,” said Nguyen-Bettle.

The film festival’s volunteer committee screened over 200 submissions this year to properly curate films that accurately capture the most pressing social issues in our world today.

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