Diaspornographica Liisa Aaltio
The International Diaspora Film Festival (IDFF) opened in Toronto this Tuesday, November 1st for a jam-packed one week run. Founded and directed by Shahram Tabe, the festival, now in its 11th year, has grown to attract the work of filmmakers from across the globe. For Canadian audiences, the festival showcases the scope and value of cultural diversity, both at home and abroad.

Although the term “diaspora” has historically been associated with the experience of various groups who have been displaced or scattered from their home, Tabe explained that here in Canada, “We are all part of some form of diaspora.” The festival provides an opportunity for film-goers to participate in an exploration into different aspects of the diaspora experience through film, regardless of ethnic or cultural background.

For Tabe, the notion and experience of diaspora encompasses “migration, the integration into a new society, cultural interface, cultural translation and diversity.” The festival explores the complicated ideas of transnationality and multiculturalism, and contends with assumptions and tensions about and between different groups of people. “This is the only diaspora festival in the world that deals with all, rather than just one community or population” said Tabe.

Many of the films deal directly with the relationship between cultures, while some focus on the particular experience of a group or country. The notion and experience of “diaspora” connotes a deeper meaning in the context of the festival, which makes the films relevant for any audience.

Tabe explained that this year’s festival theme, “Wave of Change,” is intended to reflect the many cultural, social and political changes that the world has witnessed over the past 12 months.

“Cinema is a very effective and important means of communicating ideas and getting people together,” said Tabe. He talks about the role of social media, especially in the Middle East last year. “We realize the power of mass media and social media and try to use it as a powerful tool towards creating an atmosphere of dialogue between different ethnicities and communities, even if they are not friendly in the political arena,” he explained.

The 27 films are as diverse as their subject matter, and Tabe emphasized that there is no limitation in terms of genre, content or length, as long as the film somehow speaks to the subject and theme of the festival. The films are collected either by invitation or through submissions and are chosen based on their relation and approach to the subject of diaspora.

While reluctant to choose favourites (each film is like one of his children, he explains), Tabe is very excited about the Gaza Women Film Festival, which represents one of the eight main themes. Tabe explains that he has worked hard and long to bring the works of these women to the festival since learning about their project.

The Gaza Women Film Festival was started by Palestinian women about 2 years ago, and their story quickly became a sensation worldwide. However, this will be the first time that films are screened outside of Palestine. Their films deal with a range of subjects, but according to Tabe, they explore the different ways Palestinian women are struggling for their rights in a society dominated by poverty and politics. “These films are less political than the conventional things we see from Palestine,” says Tabe. “They have their own politics, very independent from male politics.”

Unfortunately, due to the limited resources of the festival, they were unable to bring the women to Toronto to attend the screenings. Tabe hopes that next year, with more exposure and audience interest, they will receive a sponsorship or donor funding to invite and pay for the filmmakers to attend.

The festival relies heavily on this type of funding, and on the generous time and energy invested by the many volunteers who help organize and run the festival. For Tabe himself, this is a personal and unpaid endeavour. Outside of his involvement with this project, Tabe is an environmental research scientist affiliated with the University of Windsor and the University of Ottawa. Although diaspora studies are not his field of academic interest, Tabe has created a space for cultural exchange and creative knowledge production through the festival.

In order to support this constructive space, discussions with either filmmakers or experts in the respective fields accompany many of the films. A number of screenings are free, and the others are student discounted in order to increase access and encourage attendance at the festival. “Many people visit and join the festival every year, younger generations come to watch, which hopefully will continue,” says Tabe. All of the films will be shown either at Carlton Cinemas, or at Innis Town Hall on U of T’s St. George campus.

For more information on schedules, the films, location, and any other information, please visit www.diasporafilmfest.com.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: 11th IDFF explores the global developments of the past year
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