York alumna organizes culturally rich film festival

Film festivals are usually associated with the red carpets of Cannes, Sundance and Toronto.

However, Chandra Siddan, a recent graduate of York University’s Faculty of Education (BEd ’03), wants to show that Toronto’s Regent Park community is an equally colourful venue for a film festival.

To celebrate the diversity of one of Toronto’s most vibrant communities, Siddan organized the Regent Park Film Festival which runs Thursday, Nov. 20, to Saturday, Nov. 22, at Nelson Mandela Park Public School, 440 Shuter Street, Toronto.

In addition to films and documentaries made by South Asia filmmakers – this year’s inaugural theme – the festival will also screen films made by Regent Park residents themselves.

Having recently immigrated to Toronto, Siddan was struck by the need for cultural events for new immigrants. “The perspectives of newcomers to Canada are usually left out in the cold, even in a culturally rich and diverse city as Toronto,” said Siddan. “Immigrants fall back on cultural products from the countries they left behind, none of which address the issues that made them leave their countries in the first place.

“Here they are confronted by a sophisticated media establishment that sells products, unrealistic fantasies of social mobility and the ‘American way of life’.”

Siddan adds, “The Regent Park Film Festival is a grassroots attempt to break the sense of alienation and isolation felt by many newcomers. We are bringing multiculturalism into the realm of popular immigrant discourse and a dissemination of thought-provoking ideas through film.”

The impetus for the festival came when Siddan was enrolled in the Bachelor of Education Program at York’s Regent Park teacher education site. She garnered the support of the local community as well as her instructor Jeff Kugler, principal of Nelson Mandela Park Public School, who offered his school as the venue for the event, and York Professor Harry Smaller, deputy director of York’s CERLAC (Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean), who garnered broadly-based support from the University.

Smaller said, “York is a leader in teaching students about the new realities of the urban classroom. We are proud that our Regent Park site is able to work in partnership with the community and people like Chandra Siddan.”

Siddan was born in Bangalore, India, where she studied English literature. She later studied filmmaking in New York and also worked on several short films and a documentary in Germany. Living in Toronto since 2000, she continues to pursue film projects and write.

The Regent Park Film Festival is being organized with the support of several York University departments and programs (Faculty of Education, Faculty of Arts program in South Asian Studies and the York Centre for Asian Research), the Nelson Mandela Park Public School, Regent Park Focus, Regent Park Resident Council, South Asian Visual Artists Collective and South Asian Left Democratic Alliance.

Information about festival screenings and a map showing the location of the festival are available at: www.regentparkfilmfestival.com.