Above: Photo via amandapalmer.com

By News Editor Aislinn Cottell

VIU hosted the 11th Annual Urban Issues Film Festival on November 4, where a variety of films investigating urban development projects and philosophies were shown and discussed. The following are my personal opinions on each piece, beginning with my favourites and working down in that order. Most of the films can be found online and I encourage you to check out a few of them at home—especially the first two TED Talks.

#1 Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen!

This first film was a TED Talk by Ernesto Sirolli, an “iron man” in the field of local economic development. In his speech, Sirolli describes how our modern models of entrepreneurship, business, and economic development are flawed. Offering a simple, yet groundbreaking remedial philosophy for how humanity should instead tackle the issues of the 21st Century, Sirolli explores both social and environmental perspectives. His talk is inspiring, enlightening, and funny—Sirolli is incredibly charismatic, and left me feeling quite galvanized. This film was my favourite one of the evening, and definitely worth the 17 minutes of your time.

#2 The Art of Asking

My second favourite of the festival. Amanda Palmer, also known as Amanda Fucking Palmer, is an American singer-songwriter, who in 2012 launched an album on Kickstarter that grossed a total of $1,192,793 from 24,883 backers. At the time, this was the most funds ever raised for a musical project on that platform. In this 2013 TED Talk, Palmer offers a fascinating and frank look at human connection and how our current culture of celebrity worship and monetarily-based entertainment industry is failing both artists and consumers. She has since released a memoir which expands on the topic. Good for a laugh, heartwarming, and thought-provoking—a definite recommendation.

#3 Minneapolis’s Midtown Greenway: Good for Bikes, Good for Business

Number three on this list, purely for the good vibes. Funded by the Bikes Belong Foundation, this 5-minute street film looks at the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway, a 9.2 km, city-spanning bike lane installed on top of an old railway track. The Greenway gives cyclists and pedestrians a virtually traffic-free route through downtown Minneapolis, and this film shows how the new infrastructure has encouraged growth and diversification in the city. It is also a great example of “using what you have” when it comes to solving individual city problems.

#4 Do Our Cities Still Work?

A 20-minute CBC documentary which works as a great companion to the above. Although a bit cheesy at times, Do Our Cities Still Work presents some interesting ideas concerning the inherent flaws of our modern city designs; specifically, that we are currently building for a primarily car-driven society. The film also tackles the slow response-time of Western legislation when responding to urban problems, and juxtaposes some fascinating examples of foreign cities that have employed out-of-the-box thinking when solving social and infrastructure issues.

#5 Stories from the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region  

This one was made by VIU’s own, originally being a project completed by students working as research assistants with the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI). In it, they interview 21 different people’s relationships with the amazing region that is the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere, a term given by UNESCO to areas exemplifying a close relationship between humanity and nature. Although this film didn’t give me any revelations, it was very locally educational, and boasted some absolutely gorgeous cinematography of our Island.

#6 Cittaslow Cowichan Bay

A documentary on Cowichan Bay being the first North American town given the designation of “Cittaslow”, a term coined by the Italian Cittaslow network. “Cittaslow” was inspired by the Slow Food Movement, and refers to a philosophy of “slow growth,” or improvement of urban life quality by reducing exponential growth outward, and focusing on inward strengthening of culture and local economy. This film looks at how the Cowichan Valley is implementing these principles. It is encouraging, albeit a little, well, slow. I suppose that could be the point.

#7 Walmart v. Local Businesses 

In this short investigative film, CU-TV’s Darrian Rivera looks at the pros and cons of big box stores and their effects on small-town economies. He interviews several small business owners, as well as Dr. Gustavo Barboza, Associate Professor of Business at the Clarion University of Pennsylvania, for their thoughts on the topic, addressing issues such as market oversaturation and local employment. The film is not the most creatively shot, but has good content, and hey, it’s only two minutes and 42 seconds of your time.

#8 Speaker’s Spotlight – Chief Clarence Louie

This film is part of a talk given by Clarence Louie, Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band and CEO of the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation. In it, Chief Louie talks about his experiences with modern entrepreneurship, as well as how he thinks Aboriginal youth should interact with the Canadian economy. Chief Louie is a somewhat controversial figure for his “tough love” approach to First Nations community development, but the speech does provide an interesting conversation starter.

#9 Save on Meats 

This film takes a short look at Save on Meats, the butcher and coffee shop operating in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that is providing employment and discounted food to locals. Although a heart-warming story, the effect is slightly marred by being an apparent ad for Vancity, who helped the owner open the business. In addition, after the film was shown several Vancouver residents mentioned how the store may be contributing to the increasing gentrification of the area. Nevertheless, an interesting story, but maybe take it with a grain or two of salt.


Aislinn is a third year Bachelor of Arts and Science student majoring in creative writing and minoring in chemistry. New to The Nav team this year, she’s enjoying finding out about all the interesting things happening on campus. Her hobbies include reading, drawing, Netflix, and the copious consumption of coffee.

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