For five years now Rethink Breast Cancer has hosted a series of screenings, talks, and events as part of the Breast Fest Film Fest. The goal of this film and arts festival is to create awareness and dialogue among people about cancer, and to show that its effects are further reaching than people often realize. This year, from November 2 to the 4, the festival takes up residence at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema for three nights of films (with some off site presentations and panels taking place at the Toronto Park Hyatt) devoted to telling not just stories about hope and survival, but also though provoking works that will make the audience question just what they know about such a terrible disease.
In addition to the films, two major events take centre stage at this year’s festival. Live, Laugh, Lunch is a special luncheon at the Hyatt on Saturday morning that’s open exclusively to women that have survived breast cancer to create a place where they can talk about and share their own experiences with one another. On Saturday night, last year’s sell out event Tits and Sass brings stand up comics to the stage to benefit the cause. Hosted by Comedy Network mainstay Elvira Kurt and featuring an appearance from The Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson, it has become one of the festival’s must attend events.
As for the films themselves, they run the gamut from shorter television specials and feature length productions,and it even includes a rare chance to see a true classic on the big screen. Here’s a look at what’s playing at this year’s festival:
Jonna’s Body, Please Hold (Friday, November 2, 7:30 p.m.) – Adapted from her own one woman stage play, Jonna Tamases plays numerous parts of her own anatomy in this Terry Gilliam styled opening night look at a woman who sees cancer as a literal military siege on her body. Aside from the terrorists inside her body talking like boorish French people and the brief glimpses of doctors spouting things she doesn’t understand, Tamases stays front and centre here in this funny and touching look at how we tend to visualize the worst case scenarios when we are at our lowest.
Cleo from 5 to 7 (Saturday, November 3, 4:30 p.m.) – One of the most celebrated films to come out of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda’s 1962 masterpiece was one of the first films to ever deal with the anxieties of cancer, male or female and it’s definitely a must see if you haven’t gotten around to it yet. Corinne Marchand plays the titular singer during the aforementioned period of the day where she’s forced to keep her mind off of things as she awaits the results of a biopsy. Her thoughts are grim as she meets with her boyfriend, sees a fortune teller, goes hat shopping, and just generally does everything she can to gain some sort of perspective as she makes her way through the streets of Paris in a near constant state of anxiety. It’s not as grim and dour as it sounds, as there are still some much needed flashes of humour, but so rarely has the spectre of disease felt this raw, nuanced, and artful.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Saturday, November 3, 1:30 p.m.) – After a successful theatrical release and near constant buzz on the festival circuit, Lea Pool and Patricia Kern’s documentary about the prevalence of “pink washing” and how breast cancer fund raising has become a huge market driven business finds a natural home among this year’s line-up. It will be sure to spark as many (and maybe more) heated discussions here than any screening it has had to date.
Mondays at Racine (Sunday, November 4, 1:30 p.m.) – Probably the most charming tearjerker in the festival, this look at a sister run Long Island salon that once a month caters exclusively to cancer patients packs a lot into a short running time. Academy Award winning director Cynthia Wade doesn’t only focus on the immediate reasons why the place exists, but also focuses intently on the individual stories of many of the patients from vastly different backgrounds. The fears and needs of the beauty shop’s patrons ultimately drive the bulk of the film to create a mosaic about how one place can ultimately bring people together for a single moment in time during a crisis to help them feel normal and grounded once again. (Screens with the short One From Afar)
Semper Fi: Always Faithful (Sunday, November 4, 10:30 a.m.) – Appearing only a couple of weeks after it also played at the Planet In Focus environmental film festival, Rachel Libert and Tony Harmon tell the story and struggle of United States Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger as he searches for answers behind his daughter’s death at the hands of an extremely rare form of leukaemia. Uncovering dangerous water contamination, the film focuses on the disillusionment felt by Ensminger after find out that his daughter’s death can be linked back directly to an oversight the military and the state of North Carolina just simply didn’t care enough to fix. It’s definitely easy to sympathize with Jerry, a man who has given his life at every turn to his country only to have everything he loves taken from him. It’s also a great look at the role of the activist in terms of uncovering environmental causes of cancer.
Pink Skies (Sunday, November 4, 3:45 p.m.) – Great aerial photography dominates this look at 181 women from around the world banding together and training to break the world records for the largest simultaneous skydive ever attempted. The event, co-presented and organized by Sherri “Lambcop” Lewis’ daughter Mallory, takes a lot of preparation and training to pull off, and the film focuses largely on the efforts of the women who want to use the event to raise breast cancer awareness.
For more information and tickets, please visit breastfestfilmfest.com.
Top image: A scene from Pink Ribbons, Inc. Courtesy NFB.