United Nations Film Festival Montreal

Angelina Jolie at a screening of Serendipity

The United Nations Film Festival comes to Montreal this weekend

Resilient Children, Art as a Tool for Social Change and Environment, Indigeneity and the Arctic are the themes of the travelling festival’s only Canadian stop.

This weekend, the United Nations Association Film Festival, Travelling Film Festival stops in Montreal. Featuring four feature-length documentaries meant to challenge and inspire audiences on various topics, Montreal is the only Canadian stop on the festival’s circuit. A panel discussion will accompany screenings, and lively discussion is encouraged by the festival organizers.

Speaking with Cult MTL, organizer Grace Sebeh-Byrn stumbled upon the festival while doing research. She noticed that the festival had a travelling component but had no Canadian stops. She reached out, and they jumped at the opportunity. “Our branch in Montreal is curated specifically for what interests Montrealers,” she explains. In this second edition (unfortunately last year they had to cancel the event due to COVID-19 restrictions), the selection committee focused on themes of Resilient Children, Art as a Tool for Social Change and Environment, Indigeneity and the Canadian Arctic. 

The films being screened are Carol Dysinger’s Oscar-Winning short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), about young girls learning to read, write and skateboard in Kabul; Harleen Singh’s Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes explores the ways three artists challenge stereotypes in comic books; Serendipity, executive-produced by Angelina Jolie, an autobiographical documentary from French filmmaker Prune Nourry documenting her diagnosis with breast cancer; and finally, Scott Ressler’s The Last Ice, about Inuit communities fighting to protect the rapidly disappearing Arctic that has been their home for centuries.

Each of the films’ directors will be present (in-person or virtually) and will be joined by panelists including Betty Esperanza, president and founder of Skateboards for Hope, comic book artist Rachel Thomas, Mad magazine and Pilote illustrator Harry North and Inuit activist Maatalii Okalik, who will be travelling from Greenland to attend the event.

The Last Ice

With its mix of cinema and panels, the event is meant to spark meaningful conversations that will hopefully lead to concrete actions. Not only will there be a discussion, but the festival produces a take-home brochure for audiences. It includes a page they call “Take Action,” which, Sebeh-Byrn explains, “lists resources that the audience could refer to if they want to continue exploring those themes or if they want to find local initiative groups that are working right here on the ground in Montreal and Canada.”

Taking place at Cinéma Musée, the event will also feature a food truck and “other surprises,” according to Sebeh-Byrn. The day’s activities, which begin at 1 p.m., cater to active community participation and conversation. Activities early in the day are primarily focused on family, but the selection should appeal to a broad audience interested in social change and the arts. 

This one-day festival is part of a larger initiative organized through Yellow Pad Sessions, a curatorial non-profit organization that brings forth human issues through the arts. Grace Sebeh-Byrn serves as the organization’s executive director. Sebeh-Byrn is passionate about the power of art as a tool for social change. Focused on events and outreach to young cultural professionals, YPS collaborates to put on events like the United Nations Association Film Festival, Travelling Film Festival as a means of changing minds. The focus remains on collaboration, working with others and the community to help artists and the world as a whole.

After cancelling the event last year, Sebeh-Byrn believes that people are hungry for interaction and change. “People are eager to make connections, go out, in a safe environment,” she explains. The curation of films focuses on serious issues but with a positive message. “People are ready for hope.” ■

For more about the United Nations Association Film Festival, Travelling Film Festival and to buy tickets for the Montreal edition on Sept. 18, please click here.

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