Cinema Politica celebrates five years 

By Russ Cooper

Cinema Politica founder Ezra Winton (left) and Svetla Turnin share a laugh at the Cinema Politica anniversary on the EV Building 11th floor terrace. Magnifying glass

Cinema Politica founder Ezra Winton (left) and Svetla Turnin share a laugh at the Cinema Politica anniversary on the EV Building 11th floor terrace.

Every day for the past five years, 'Lights… Camera… Action!' has meant something a little bit different for Cinema Politica.

On April 23, the non-profit, volunteer-run project celebrated its fifth anniversary of delivering independent cinema promoting diversity, vigorous debate and plurality in culture, media and the arts. Over 100 people gathered in EV 1.605 for a rough-cut screening of HotDocs-nominated H2Oil (provided and attended by producer Sarah Spring), a masterfully filmed documentary examining the toxic implications of the Alberta tar sands project, followed by a casual and intimate reception on the EV's 11th floor.

"We wouldn't exist without the enthusiasm of people who want to know more," said co-founder, director and programmer Ezra Winton in his address to the crowd.

What began as a weekly group of 20 or 30 people has grown into something almost larger than life. While Winton essentially started the project in 2001 while a student at Langara College in Vancouver as his response to a lack of diversity in cinemas, his arrival to Concordia in January 2003 is when he considers its true beginning. Under the auspices of Amnesty International and in conjunction with QPIRG, he began showing documentary films once a week, in turn harnessing the heightened political and cultural awareness of Concordia's student body at the time. "Eventually, it just became its own thing," he says.

In sharing its model of sharing films with interested organizations and locals around the world, Cinema Politica has incorporated 40 Canadian and 11 international different screening venues; including eight in Europe, two in Indonesia and one in São Paulo, Brazil. The network reaches an estimated 750 000 people each year (12 000 annually at Concordia alone).

As one can imagine, the journey hasn't come without its ups and down. While Winton doesn't take the opportunity to detail in-depth the hardships (save for recounting one lighthearted fracas of a projectionist accidentally hitting, "the big, red cancel button on our Soviet-era projector" during one screening that took 45 minutes to reset), he is noticeably satisfied when reflecting on the brightest moments.

In 2003, Cinema Politica screened a rough cut of the since hugely-successful film The Corporation, the film's producer and co-director Mark Achbar attended to gain feedback from the electrified audience of 700+ in H-110, well above the room's capacity of 680 (more than 100 were turned away due to lack of space). Volunteers and organizers even donned three-piece suits to add to the atmosphere.

"I know it sounds cheesy, but you could feel the love in the crowd," he says. "That kind of thing is part of what's made Cinema Politica a very special and meaningful experience for political filmmakers. Our audiences are very lively, very generous, very responsive and very open."

It's no doubt Winton and his partner Svetla Turnin (with whom he's co-organized CP since 2004) have made significant leaps in helping to inform the general population about many overlooked issues—a contribution, he explains, that often lead many to believe there's an office full of staff ensuring events are well-organized, well-attended and pushing for expansion.

"But what nobody really knows," says Winton, "is that it's just myself and Svetla who're doing this in our shared office in our apartment, fueled by yerba maté and a lack of sleep in between writing essays for my PhD in media studies at Carleton and her masters in media studies here at Concordia."

Operational limitations aside, the pair have borne a new sense of consciousness not only limited to students. During the April 23 celebration, film professors and long-time supporters Tom Waugh and Liz Miller (see Journal, March 9, 2006) perhaps put it best, proudly toasting its unarguable contribution to the richness of discourse here and abroad.

"Congrats to you from all us old fogeys," said Waugh. "You've really transformed film here."

"My life would be a lot less interesting if it weren't for Cinema Politica," said Miller. "Here's to the next five years."


Concordia University