The only film and fine arts festival in the world to look exclusively at breast cancer awareness and education, Rethink’s 6th annual Breast Fest celebration kicks off in Toronto once again this coming weekend with a line-up of thought-provoking and discussion starting art, artists, filmmakers, panellists, and everyday survivors coming together to remind people to be hopeful in the face of a disease that kills millions of women and men every year.
Although this year still contains a line-up of features and short films at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the focal point of this year’s festival comes from the artistic side of things rather than the cinematic. Taking centre stage this year is a large scale photographic installation from New York based fashion photographer David Jay called The Scar Project. Available for viewing at the Edward Day Gallery (952 Queen Street West) in Toronto starting on March 28th with a private invite only reception and running through April 6th, the collection consists of 30 large scale portraits of young female cancer survivors, the goal of which is to facilitate a discussion about what beauty really means in relation to cancer and to highlight the lengths some people have to go to in order to survive.
Jay’s desire to start the project is also the focal point of the film Baring it All (Sunday, March 30th, 3:30pm, for which Jay will be in attendance alongside participant Sylvia Soo). A look behind the scenes of the project and Jay’s raw shooting style, the film tells of how Jay came to the project by way of a friend who lost a breast to cancer at only 32 years of age. From there, the film goes on to show how the project’s various subjects have come to find acceptance and a way to give others hope in the face of a terrifying diagnosis and possible outcomes.
The Scar Project and the Edward Day Gallery will also play host to two mediated discussions about cancer next week. On Tuesday, April 1st from 5:30-7:00pm, Dr. Toni Zhong hosts a discussion entitled The Realities of Reconstruction – A Complex Choice. Zhong – co-founder of the Breast Restoration Program for University Health Networks – will talk about breast cancer in relation to body image, reconstructive surgery, and the difficult decisions that could be faced long term following a mastectomy. The other panel on Wednesday the 3rd at the same time – titled Are We Beautiful? – finds moderator and Giller Prize winning author Katrina Onstad speaking with FLARE Magazine editor-in-chief Cameron Williamson and The Grid Senior Editor Sarah Liss about body image issues raised in everyday photography in relation to not only the exhibit, but also to a larger public perception of what defines femininity for better and worse.
But yes, There are still movies and plenty of them outside of the previously mentioned Baring it All! (There’s also the returning Live, Laugh, Lunch! event at the Park Hyatt at 11am on Saturday that gives female cancer survivors a place to chat, mingle, and discuss things in a relaxed and intimate setting.)
The film festivities kick off on Saturday at 1:30 with Asha and Roda Siad’s Beyond the Silence, a look at how cancer affects cultural differences that arise within Albertan immigrant communities in terms of prevention, education, treatment and acceptance. Valleys (Sunday, March 30th, 10:30am), which began its life as a webseries (produced by fellow cancer survivor Mike Lang), tells the story of Amy McDougall-Aubin, a mother who has not let cancer diminish her adventurous and outdoorsy spirit, and the relationship she has to her concerned friends and family. The Promise (Sunday, March 30th, 1:00pm) is a UK made documentary that posits the potentially troubling fact that mammography hasn’t quite lived up to its life saving potential and the practice’s potential link to potential overtreatment of non-invasive breast cancers that might not require extreme measures to treat.
All three of those docs come with panel discussions following the film to talk about the issues at hand, but there’s still a fictional offering and its easily one of the best things on area screens this weekend. Blending modern mumblecore aesthetics, the emotional grandeur of a late 70s/early 80s domestic drama, and a healthy dose of Agnes Varda, Lily (Saturday, March 29th, 3:30pm) tells the story of one young New York City breast cancer survivor stuck in a kind of limbo. Lily (co-writer Amy Grantham in what could be a major star-making performance if enough people see the film) seems to have responded well to treatment, but her doctors are concerned that more aggressive steps may need to be taken in order to avoid her cancer returning. It’s a nagging uncertainty that forces her to take a closer look at her personal relationships, particularly towards her considerably older fiancé (Simon Chaput), her almost passive-aggressively smothering mother, and ex-boyfriend that she’s seeking a job with, and her long estranged father.
Embracing lengthy quiet moments of Lily when she has moments to herself and uncomfortably loud situations where she doesn’t feel like she fits in (an intense scene where a drunken Lily tells off some aloof, erudite party guests off is a showstopper), co-writer and director Matt Creed (who will be in attendance for the screening) focuses on the reconciliation of a life that’s very subtly in shambles with this raw, non-judgemental look at the recovery process. It’s anchored wonderfully by Grantham, who portrays Lily as a strong woman facing difficult life decisions. Physically, she might just be barely a step behind everyone else, but mentally she knows exactly what she wants from life, no matter the uncertainty. It’s a beautiful movie.
For a full list of events, screenings, panels, information, tickets, and to learn more about The Scar Project, check out the Breast Fest website.