By Calvin To
Uploaded on 10/31/2011 2:32:20 PM
Torture in far away places. Street beatings. Teenage Guerilla fighters.
Not your typical themes for a student movie night.
Of course, it was no ordinary night at Ryerson’s Oakham House. It was a film festival organized by volunteers from the Canadian Centre for International Justice. CCIJ is a fairly new non-governmental organization. They’ve been around for about two years, and are trying to break into the student scene with a new film series.
An unlikely duo of Ryerson students-- Erin Byrnes, a master of journalism student, and Erin Shaw, who’s doing her master of social work, organized the evening. They’re not your typical human rights crusaders—they’re not lawyers or NGO bigwigs, and they don’t work for the UN.
They also had a budget of just $75 from the RSU. “It takes a lot of coordination to get people out to an event that no one’s ever heard of,” Byrnes says. “I’ve been getting three to four hours of sleep a night for the past couple weeks.”
Byrnes says she doesn’t remember whose idea it was—it all came out of a brainstorming session several months ago.
“It was a challenge,” Byrnes says with a nervous laugh. “We really, really started from scratch.”
That includes the food she made for the event. Homemade hummus, guacamole, a veggie platter, stuffed cherry tomatoes with bocconcini cheese and balsamic dressing.
“Balsamic reduction,” Byrnes says with a proud smile. “Everything was too heavy to bring on my bike, so I had one of my roommates come stand with me in the middle of the street carrying these plates.”
She doesn’t say how they carried the soft drinks, but one can only imagine the trip they went through—they all squirted and spilled onto the table when opened.
The eager participants didn’t seem to mind the mom-and-pop nature of the whole thing, though.
“I’m interested in the topic and I know this is really important film, so I thought I’d check it out,” said Jay O’Hara, a Ryerson masters student who specializes in film and documentary making.
O’Hara joined the group in watching When the Mountain Breaks, a film about a war between the Guatemalan military and the country’s native Mayan population.
The film showed gritty pictures of people beaten on the street, dead bodies wrapped in blankets, soldiers with bullet wounds and bloodied arms.
In one scene a young woman recalled a conversation she had with her father shortly after she signed up to be a guerrilla fighter. “My father said, ‘If you want to go, go ahead. And take your little brother, too.’ “
As difficult as it was to watch, audience members seemed to appreciate what it had to offer.
“It’s sad,” said Yusur Albahrani, a freelance writer. “But people need to know about these kinds of things.”
The event finished with a panel discussion on the state of human rights in Latin America. Most people stayed until the end, although there were still some empty seats.
Byrnes says she’s happy with the turnout.
“We didn’t really have an idea of who would show up. We invited our friends, we invited all kinds of organizations,” she says. “The fact that we managed to get a bunch of people out and interested is a huge success to me and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”
Byrnes plans on organizing another CCIJ-inspired film fest soon. “It was worth it. It’s just beginning.”