The role of the arts in creating social change is a history that stretches far back into time. Artists in cultures and countries around the world have used their mediums to inspire and incite the viewer to examine a particular issue in a new way. Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most famous artists, used her paintings to move forward her politics (socialism), LGBTQ and disability rights, as well as women’s rights. Australia’s Omar Sakur uses poetry to discuss the intersection of his spirituality, gender, and sexuality, subverting stereotypes and taboos with his powerful and creative words.

Film is a part of the art of the art world, but, due to its corporate influence, it is often shuffled into the realm of “entertainment” – even those categorized as documentaries. However, there is real potential in reaching a broad, visually-centred audience through social issue films that lack the realm of “escapism” found in many popular films and invite you to bring the ideas into the physical world, question social norms, and make change. This opportunity is available next month at VIU through the 12th Annual Urban Issues Film Festival, which is put on by the Geography Department, the Planning Institute of BC, the Geographic Students’ Union, and the Masters in Community Planning program. Taking place from 2-9 on November 10th, the line-up of films will explore the ideas of tactical urbanism and creative cities – basically activist films about activism. Tactical urbanism is a movement that often uses temporary, cheap, citizen-inspired tactics to make change within an urban environment; some of which became worldwide phenomenon, such as the car-free days, guerilla gardening projects, and pop-up art galleries – even food trucks fall into this category. It is a movement that exists all around us all the time – people taking control out of the hands of city council and subverting public spaces to be exactly that – accessible and for the public (rather than cars for instance). This obviously takes quite a bit of creativity, with many artists leading the way in how residents are reimagining what their cities can be.

Films in the festival that will explore these ideas include Do It Yourself Urban Design, Public Story: Public Benches Design, Belonging in the Downtown Eastside, What We Don’t Understand About Gentrification, and many others. The final film of the evening will be Citizen Jane, which is the story of Jane Jacobs in her fight against the proposal to force a proposed freeway through historical Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Films range in length from one minute to 90 minutes.

And it isn’t all about films – this year, the festival will host two keynote speakers to inspire dialogue about the content being viewed: Laura Lee Coles and Michael Geselbracht. Coles is an arts-based researcher, published writer and practicing interdisciplinary artist. Her interests include the interconnected relationships between humans, technology and nature, driving the inspiration of her interactive, contemplative and site-specific video installation practice. Geselbracht is a local sustainable food activist, contributing to the food forest located on the formerly derelict lot on Haliburton Street. He is currently an elementary teacher at Discover Montessori school. He and his students are the current stewards at Beaufort Park, restoring its native forest ecosystem, as well as planting out Nanaimo’s Second Public Food Forest there.

It may feel like it may take a lot to change the world, especially concerning the current political climate of North America, but it is all about planting seeds of ideas in people through art – film included- and watching them bloom into real action!

The event takes place 2-9pm on Friday, November 10th in building 356, room 109. Food, beverages, and lively discussion will be provided.

Please register at:

For more information, contact Don Alexander at or Karin Kronstal at



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