The following are the introductory remarks I gave at the second night of the 2018 Core Collaborative Learning Canadian Homelessness Film Festival, a series of films focusing on homelessness. The majority of the films presented were shorts made either by those who have lived experience of homelessness, or those who work with organizations that work towards alleviating it.
This year the CCL festival was done in conjunction with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness‘ annual conference, which was held in my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. The film festival portion of the event was held over two nights and showcased 20+ short films from across Canada. I served as a film mentor to one of the festival’s first-time filmmakers, as well as was part of a post-screening panel.
Good evening. My name is Shane Pennells. I’m a filmmaker here in Hamilton, and I do a lot of work with at-risk and marginalized youth throughout the city. Cole Gately has graciously given me an opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. My first thought is that it has been an absolute honour to be working with Core Collaborative Learning bringing tonight’s films to you.
I’ve been serving as a mentor to one of our first-time filmmakers tonight and it gave me a moment to reflect on the power that film and the Arts have as a tool for social justice.
I think it’s safe to say that we all like watching movies. If I asked “what’s your favourite film” I’d probably get as many different answers as there are people here tonight. My fellow filmmaker and dear friend Terry Odette and I discussed that very question.
His favorite film is the Jimmy Stewart classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Good choice. An even better choice, maybe even the best choice, is my favourite, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. However, when Terry heard my choice, he just shook is head and said, “You are such a child of the 1980’s.” Everyone has a favourite movie and because of that, it’s obvious that film is an immensely powerful way to reach people.
As filmmaker I have a public voice that not everyone does. For me, that means I have a certain responsibility to use that voice to help raise awareness of issues and people that might otherwise escape our attention.
The philosopher Paul Tillich once wrote that “the first duty of love is to listen”. That is what tonight is all about: listening. Tonight we’ve flipped the script, as it were. Usually stories about homelessness have to be brought to the public’s attention via a newspaper article or TV segment.
I can tell you from working in media for many years that it is often very difficult to engage the public on topics like homelessness, but here that’s not the case. That’s what makes tonight so unique: you’re already here, ready to be engaged, ready to listen. Ready, I hope, to ask “what can I do to help?”
The films being presented tonight are, by and large, films on homelessness *by* the people who’ve lived it. The films are raw and unfiltered. They are insightful. They are heartwarming. They, at times, will be uncomfortable. However, the voices heard tonight can not and should not be ignored.
The films aren’t just about exposing the hard truths of homelessness, but they are also about starting discussions on how to end it. Homelessness doesn’t mean you’re just without a stable place to stay; it can involve many other issues, such as mental health challenges, addictions, the loss of self-identity and so much more. And there is no one singular root cause of it either.
Because of this there is no one singular answer, no panacea, no silver bullet that will just make the spectre of homelessness vanish, and because of that honest discussions need to be had and new ideas and new solutions have to be found. One idea I can offer from working with at-risk youth for many years is that it is often as much about the restoration of self-worth and dignity as it is about the ending of any financial barrier.
If we take away someone’s dignity, we have to give some of our own away in the process. We can not tear someone down without tearing a part of ourselves down at the same time. It’s natural law. However, to build someone up can sometimes take nothing more than a kind word, a listening ear, and a helping hand.
That is why those of us who have the ability to help have a certain responsibility to help those who are vulnerable and marginalized, because of we don’t… who will?
The first duty of love is to listen. The duties after that? Well, I’d listen to your heart and go from there. Thank you and enjoy the evening.