Halifax filmmakers challenge stereotypes

Halifax documentary producers Mathew Welsh and Nance Ackerman are among the filmmakers whose works will premiere during the Atlantic Film Festival, which opens in Halifax Thursday.

Atlantic Film Festival opens Thursday with Trailer Park Boys film

Halifax documentary producers Mathew Welsh and Nance Ackerman are among the filmmakers whose works will premiere during the Atlantic Film Festival, which opens in Halifax Thursday.

Welsh's film, The Exchange — Six faces of The Gambia, sets out to challenge stereotypes about Africa, with some remarkable first-person stories.

Nance Ackerman worked closer to home. Her film, Four Feet Up, is an examination of poverty in one Annapolis Valley family.

The festival gets its official kickoff Thursday with the Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day and a party featuring rock bands the Novaks and the Arkells. It will close with The Trotsky on Sept. 26.

More than 300 films will be screened at the international festival, including 70 from Atlantic Canada.

Welsh, of Halifax-based Journeyman Films, says he went to the West African country of The Gambia seeking people who weren't aid workers or starving farmers or even struggling teachers.

"We wanted to find people that are living and thriving, resourceful problem-solvers and doing just fine," he told CBC News.

One of the highlights of the film was meeting Mr. Chow, a man in his 80s who has lived all his life in The Gambia.

"He gives off this vibe of being the wise grandfather that you always wished you had or the wise old neighbour," Welsh said.

"He has this interesting philosophy of life. He says that there's only 40 per cent of yourself that actually belongs to you, then 30 per cent belongs to your family and 30 per cent belongs to the community," Welsh said.

Chow's idea that most of life is meant to be about giving back to community or family is a value that seems strong in Africa, Welsh said.

Welsh was also impressed with Sharifa, who had some telling comments about the West.

"He said 'People in the West think it's a good idea to ship goods — containers full of teddy bears or bicycles or old clothes. No,' he says 'Don't send me stuff. Teach me how to get a job so I can make this stuff or buy it myself.  We want to do things for ourselves'." Welsh said.

The Exchange — Six faces of The Gambia screens Sunday at noon AT.

'I wanted people to feel uncomfortable': Ackerman

Ackerman was approached by the National Film Board to make a documentary about child poverty in Canada.

She admits she thought the subject hopeless and bleak until she decided to focus on a single child, eight-year-old Isaiah.

Four Feet Up follows him over the course of four years as he challenges every stereotype about children living in poverty, Ackerman told CBC News.

"I was just soaking in a lot of the lessons," she said. "You don't need triple A hockey — you can go down the ravine and play with frogs for hours on end, and it can be just as rewarding.

"I started questioning my mothering. I have two kids, two teenagers, and I, as a single mother, [was] questioning what I considered to be important to a child."

The two irritants in Isaiah's life are the memory of being taken away from his family by social workers and how little time his mother, who has four children, has to spend with him, Ackerman said. Those concerns overshadow the lack of material comforts associated with poverty, she said.

"I presented stereotypes, and I think you have to present stereotypes to break through them, " she said. "I wanted people to feel uncomfortable, I wanted them to feel claustrophobic."

Isaiah and his brother Ethan also have a film in the festival, a short animated film called Fruit.

Four Feet Up screens this Sunday at 2 p.m. AT as part of the Atlantic Film Festival.