A poster for the Urban Issues Film Festival

This year’s theme is focused on Indigenous perspectives / Image via Eventbrite

The Urban Issues Film Festival is coming back this Friday to VIU for the first time since 2019 as part of Global Citizens Week.

“It’s great to be back,” Don Alexander, retired Geography professor and co-founder of the film festival, said. “We’ve been missing the festival.”

Alexander said the event is “very student-driven.” The Master of Community Planning students do a lot of initial organization for the event, while the Geographic Students’ Union take over by volunteering the day of the film festival.

“It’s a good way to show really important issues,” said Sarah Brosseau, president of the Geographic Students’ Union.

The Urban Issues Film Festival first started in 2005. It was organized by Pam Shaw and Aexander, and initially inspired by a planning conference sponsored by the city of Nanaimo.

“I made an off-hand comment to [Shaw] that sometimes it’s easier to show than tell with urban issues,” Alexander said.

Shaw met the idea with enthusiasm, thus starting the annual Urban Issues Film Festival.

Every year, there is a different theme to the film festival, such as social equality, tactical urbanism, climate change, and global urbanism.

“Normally we try to stay within the urban issues, but this time we’re going a little bit different,” Brosseau said. That difference is a focus on Indigenous perspectives on climate change.

“We’ve done a lot of bridge-building with the Indigenous community on-campus,” Alexander said. “A lot of Indigenous Studies profs are excited about it. This has been an opportunity to reach out and talk to a lot of Indigenous professors, so that’s been really rewarding.”

There will be two speakers at the event: Joan Brown, the Chief Administrative Officer of Snuneymuxw First Nation, and Scott Saywell, the Superintendent of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public School board.

“They’re going to talk about the whole concept of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people walking together to embrace land stewardship values from a First Nations perspective,” Alexander said.

Alexander described The Condor and the Eagle, the hour-and-a-half length feature film of the festival, as “Indigenous land-defenders in both the north and south…and how they express their solidarity with each other.”

Brosseau said the editing process of the featured films was originally begun by Tessa Bunz. Editing was carried out, in part, by Global Studies and Visual Arts student Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz.

One of Alexander’s former students also made three short videos for the festival about sustainability cases around Nanaimo, such as the Aboriginal housing centre on Bowen Road and the Five Acres Farm in Harewood.

They’re ending the night on the Haida Gwaii episode of Power to the People, an Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) series focusing on Indigenous communities around Canada that are leading the way on renewable energy.

“It’s nice to end on a positive note, because a lot of the other stuff is a little bit harrowing,” Alexander said.

In past years, about fifty percent of the audience came up from the community to VIU to attend the Urban Issues Film Festival. Alexander doesn’t know how it will look this year because of the pandemic, but he’s hopeful.

“It’s a nice opportunity for community members to interact with students,” he said.

Brosseau said people attending the festival can expect “Good times.”

“They can expect a bunch of films on different issues under the same theme,” she continued. “They can expect some free pizza, some drinks, and a way to engage with the community. Just a fun night of films.”

Alexander reflected on the history of the film festival.

“The fact that [the festival is] student-driven is a real achievement, and the fact that it’s been around for fifteen years,” Alexander said. “A lot of things die after the first couple of years. It’s kind of a legacy. A very positive legacy.”

“I think the biggest key [aspect] about it is that it is easier to see than to just hear about these issues,” Brosseau said, “so it gets more people thinking about it and talking about it after seeing it kind of in real-time.”

The Urban Issues Film Festival takes place on Friday, February 11th, from 4:30 pm to 9 pm in Bldg. 355, Room 203 on the VIU campus. Because of the limited capacity, and to forecast pizza orders, the organizers are kindly asking those interested in attending to register through Eventbrite.


Isabella Ranallo is a third-year Creative Writing student at VIU. She's loved storytelling ever since she stole a sheet of her mother's office paper at age four to write the first page of a story about ten kids stranded on a desert island. Her short story, "The Journal," was published in VIRL and Rebel Mountain Press' In Our Own Teen Voice 2019. These days, she spends her free time scribbling away in Moleskine notebooks or searching for cat-inspired stationery.

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