Guelph religious group threatens to protest Quebec documentary

A religious group in Guelph, Ont., is threatening to picket the Guelph International Film Festival over a documentary by Quebec filmmaker Alexandra Guite.

A religious group is threatening to picket the Guelph International Film Festival in southwestern Ontario over a documentary by Quebec filmmaker Alexandra Guité.

The Art of Resistance is one of two works to be featured Friday in the gala opening of the festival.

The documentary looks at Argentine artists whouse artto deliver powerful social statements.

The Guelph protesters object to a scene involving the work of dissident artist Leon Ferrari. Theysay it is disrespectful to Christ and Catholicism.

"My objection has to do with sculptures from Leon Ferrari that make a mockery— almost blasphemous — statement regarding Christ and his mother Mary," said Guelph resident Stella Mott, who with her husband Dwayne is leading a small group opposed to the film.

After seeing a trailer of The Art of Resistance, she contacted the festival and the River Run Centre where it is being held and asked that the film be stopped or that the offensive images be blacked out.

Ferrari, an influential Latin American artist, spent 14 years in exile in Brazil after voicing his opposition to Argentina's Dirty War of the 1970s, a time of summary executions and disappearances.

At issue is his 1964 sculpture of Jesus Christ pinned to the wings of a U.S. air force jet, an image he createdto protest the Vietnam War.

Mott also objects to a work that shows the Virgin Mary as a voodoo doll, one showing Christ popping out of a toaster, and images that link a former pope with Adolf Hitler.

"I've spoken out because I believe it is not right to make a mockery of matters of faith, whether it's Muslim or Christian …. Everyone's faith should be respected," she said.

'The problematics of his society'

Guité told CBC Radio she's "a little surprised" at the protest and points out that Ferrari is poking fun at injustice within his own culture, rather than ridiculing faith.

"The film and extracts really have to be placed within that context, within the context of an artist who's talking about the problematics of his society and for people to judge that without knowing Argentina, without knowing where Ferrari is coming from and without seeing the whole perspective of this film… is, I find, very dangerous," Guité said.

A 2004 retrospective of Ferrari's work in Buenos Aires was shut down because of objections from the church, she said.

That censorship caused the artistic community in Argentina to mobilize itself for freedom of speech, she said.

"I would enjoy these people being as critical about breaches of human rights as they are about work of Ferrari," she said.

Bill Barrett, founder of the Guelph festival, told CBC Radio the image of Christ on a war plane is just a small part of the film, whichlooks at the recent flowering of creative expression in Argentina.

"A tiny portion of that film looks at the controversy associated with … Ferrari, and it depicts Christ nailed to a U.S. jet plane and it was a provocative piece that spoke to the war in Vietnam," he said.

Festival organizers say there will be no changes and they will go ahead with the showing Friday.

Also on the lineup for the evening galais The Refugee All Stars, about a band of musicians from Sierra Leone who return to their country for the first time in six years after fleeing a civil war.

Protesters are urging people to boycott the festival, andsay they plan to pray fororganizers.Organizers are urging those who object to the film to see it first.

Guité produced The Art of Resistance through Alefilms, a studio she formed in 2003 to create works about those who dare to stand up to injustice.

The Guelph festival, which shows small, independent films,runs fromNov. 3 to 5 at the Guelph River Run Centre.