Edmonton International Women’s Film Festival gets real about women’s futures by looking at our past
The Edmonton International Women’s Film Festival is founded upon breaking silence and empowering women from all walks, this year being no exception. Panels will be held throughout the course of the festival on such topics as Consent and Intersectionality, Enthusiastic Consent, and Male Privilege and the Systemic Disempowerment of Women.
On March 7 two particularly timely films were shown: The Rape of Recy Taylor (2017) and Wind River (2017) with a panel discussion on the state of Edmonton’s Black and Indigenous communities, among others.
The Rape of Recy Taylor is just that. The rape of a young Alabama black woman in 1944 by six white men who were never convicted, and never charged. The documentary follows Taylor’s story, told mainly by her younger brother and sister, and ties in how she joined forces with Rosa Parks, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, and the bus boycott movement in ‘55.
When filmmaker Nancy Buirski came across the story in 2015, she was shocked to have never heard about it before.
“I knew more people needed to hear her story and they needed to know just how powerful her courage became. Back then, women were worried for their lives, for their safety if they spoke up,” Buirski says. “But they also need to know how real these things are for black women today.”
While the film is about a specific historical incident, the content is still terribly relevant. Women like Taylor and Parks spoke up to claim their own space, but the battle is still being fought, especially for women of colour, Indigenous women, women with disability, and women of minority.
With the Weinstein scandal starting three weeks after The Rape of Recy Taylor was released, the poetic reality of the topic shows that there is still a ways to go. With screenings scheduled in several communities across North America, Buirski hopes that the documentary becomes a “bullhorn that ignites others to tell this story.”
Wind River (directed by Taylor Sheridan) chronicles the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) with an altogether too-close-to-home story of a young Indigenous girl’s rape and murder in Wyoming. While the film, produced by The Weinstein Company, is slightly more Hollywood-glamourized version of things, the film does strike serious tones of familiarity here in Canada.
“We still have girls going missing in our area and all across Canada,” says Linda Boudreau-Semaganis, a Cree/Métis advocate for MMIWG or over 25 years. “The Tina Fontaine case and that man walking. It’s scary because I have great-granddaughters coming, and what kind of a world is it going to be when we feel like we’re of little value?”
Indigenous women, need support systems and education to learn to be confident in themselves, something that Boudreau-Semaganis says will have a big impact in the respect these girls have for themselves from a young age and what they will and will not tolerate later in life.
“It doesn’t matter what the general opinion is, what matters is they have confidence in themselves,” she says.
While films like this help to educate and make the public aware of the problems we collectively face, as Boudreau-Semaganis says, strong community supports must exist to deal with the realities we see in films like the ones mentioned above, realities we still face today.
The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) has seen an major uptick in demand (53 percent increase in counselling requests) for their services since this time last year. The waitlist for adult counselling has grown to upwards of five months and children’s counselling currently sits at about three months wait time, something SACE executive director Mary Jane James says is unacceptable.
“There’s been a real wakeup call here,” she says. “People are really waking up to the fact that this issue that we’ve been allowing to exist in secrecy and shame and silence for decades—we can’t do that anymore. The world has changed and I believe it will never change back to the way it was, it can’t.”
While their funding and staff numbers have remained unchanged as of now, SACE hopes to bulk up vital services like counselling and sexual assault prevention education in the near future, an expansion that hinges on an increase in funding.
“We cannot continue to ignore the most marginalized among us,” James says. “We’re only as healthy as the weakest and least healthy person in our society and we have a collective responsibility to address an issue that has plagued our society for way way too long.”
In order to address them, we must continue the discussion surrounding such issues as assault, rape, and inequality. A society will not change overnight, but with persistence, we’ve come this far.
“It’s good to see people talking about it and see it out in the public discussion,” Buirski says of sexual assaults like Recy Taylor’s. “I think more stories are coming out, but these things are still happening.”
Boudreau-Semaganis echos this by adding that it doesn’t come down to what divides us, but rather, what unites us.
“We have to all stand together, I like what I’m seeing in the communities that we have many non-Indigenous standing with us because it’s about women,” Boudreau-Semaganis says, “but also, it’s about those young ones that are coming. We want them to be the best they can be.”
Sun., Mar. 11 (3:30 pm)
Featuring short films from OMG Yes!
Wed., Mar 14 (9:30 pm)
The Hunting Ground
Panel on Male Privilege and the Systemic Disempowerment of Women”
Myer Horowitz Theatre