VANCOUVER, CANADA – Feb. 11, 2021, For VAFF’s entire 25 year history, Canada Council for the Arts has provided less than $30,000 in total funding and $0 funding since 2006.
VAFF is the oldest Asian film festival in Canada and has been an incubator of talent for Asian Canadian creators and filmmakers for 25 years. As a community leader, VAFF has a long history of offering capacity building, mentorship, and professional development programs to its Asian Canadian community and other communities of colour, in addition to showcasing the best of Asian Canadian cinema.
In comparison, a similar Asian film festival in Eastern Canada has received a total of almost $350,000 from various CCA grants in just the last 3 years. VAFF and this other Asian film festival have similar programming and cultural work, therefore, for the juries to arrive at such starkly different outcomes is a testament to the fact that the grant applications and juries/assessors themselves are systemic barriers to equitable funding. We are supportive of the other festival’s funding and we will not allow CCA to pit one cultural POC group against another, which is often how BIPOC groups have been treated.
Recently, CCA held their AGM to promote their understanding of the need for Racial Equity in their organization and who they support. By denying VAFF public funding, the festival is unable to hire staff from its own POC community, making CCAs’ new hiring initiative appear to be merely window dressing for racial equity. The hypocrisy is glaring. Once again, the Asian Canadian community is being used as cheap labour – this time it is for the cultural work that the community does to build social cohesion for the country.
“Does this East-West disparity mean that the Canadian Government feels the need to support only one Asian Film Festival in Canada. How many White film festivals are being funded by the CCA? And at what level?” questions Nilesh Patel, a Vancouver based independent filmmaker
This leads us to believe that there is a “One Asian” bias within CCA. Tokenizing underrepresented groups devalues our communities across the country and reduces us to a box checked in annual reports.
For many years, we held multiple meetings with CCA program officers seeking answers as to why VAFF was continually being denied funding, then worked with these officers only to find our application again denied repeatedly. It is evident that it is not an issue with VAFF, but that the granting process at CCA is itself a mechanism of structural racism. If the systemic racist structures inherent with CCA are not being changed, then there is little hope that the outcome will be different the next time for VAFF.
“The lack of funding from Canada Council has been a huge obstacle for VAFF to be able to continue the work that the festival does, and not have to continually ask our community to do much of this work for free,” states Barbara Lee, VAFF’s Founder and President.
Stories shown on screen can influence how people think, feel, interpret, and perceive the world around them. These stories will open the minds and perspectives of their audiences. Canada is a vast and beautiful country with a diverse set of stories that need to be showcased. Now, more than ever it is time to shine the spotlight on these talented and underrepresented Canadian Asian voices and creators. Although at times challenging, VAFF’s unwavering Artistic Vision is to show the depth and breadth of the lived experiences of Asian Canadians on screen.
VAFF’s core belief is that Representation is one of the most effective tools to combat systemic racism and we are a resource to those studios, programs, productions, etc. looking to increase the hiring of racially diverse Canadian creators. VAFF’s diverse programming also attracts a wider audience to grow the festival, fostering more partnership and collaboration, engagement, and participation for a more inclusive society promoting equity, access, and diversity. To fully participate in society, Canadians of Asian heritage need to be seen and heard. This can only be achieved through representation both onscreen, behind the camera, and in the organizations across Canada that represent us like VAFF.
As the CCA website states, “We must not only listen to, but also respond in order to correct the funding inequities that still exist and that disadvantage Indigenous artists, Black artists, artists who are racialized, Deaf artists, and artists with disabilities.”
VAFF is calling on the Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, Canada Council for the Arts Board Chair Jesse Wente and CEO Simon Brault to stand by its commitment to correct over a decade of funding inequity experienced by VAFF.
VAFF encourages other community groups and organizations to join in support of equitable funding.
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