First edition Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival delivers thought-provoking features

The first-ever Ottawa International Vegan Film Fest was held at the Mayfair Theatre on October 14, 2018.

With more and more people in the city, and the world, adopting a plant-based diet — ranging from vegetarians to steadfast vegans — the genre of the ‘vegan film’ has emerged.

You’ve probably heard of some of the big ones, like Cowspiracy, Food Inc., or Forks over Knives. Usually, they are films with a pretty simple message — that our industrial meat industry is either unsustainable, immoral, or both.

Until now, says Shawn Stratton, that genre of film has not had its own international film festival. But on Sunday, Stratton hoped to change that with the debut of the Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival, held at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa South.

As far as Stratton knows, “it’s the first one in the world that I’ve ever found.”

The festival drew a solid crowd and offered the audience a wide range of films, from shocking to humourous to satirical to heartfelt, all packed into a three-hour film fest. There were eight films screened, representing five different countries.

“I called it an international festival, and I’m glad it really is,” said Stratton. He joked that he was happy that some of the films were subtitled. “It definitely gives that international flavour.”

What makes a vegan film? I ask Stratton. Hard to say, exactly. “It’s more a vegan-themed film,” he said. “The heart of veganism is compassion to animals and not exploiting animals. With that definition being at the heart of it, we divided it up into four categories.” Those categories — environmental, health, lifestyle, and animal welfare — are, said Stratton, a pretty comprehensive description of what makes up a vegan film.

Still, there are always surprises, and even vegans can be shocked by vegan films that push the boundaries. One such film, a French mockumentary called “La Boucherie Éthique” (The Ethical Butcher) was a satire of the idea of “ethical meat.” The satire showed a butcher who, instead of killing animals, amputated their limbs to eat them, calling it ‘sampling.’ The premise was pushed as far as it could go, and then a bit further — near the end of the film, it showed people “sampling” the meat of their pet dog, and then people who “sampled” the meat of human beings.

The mockumentary was not real, but it looked real, and elicited strong reactions from the audience. Some applauded its inclusion, saying it got its message (that there are simply no half measures and that ethical eating is an illusion) across incredibly effectively; others, including one women in the theatre, were horrified. One person walked out of the festival after it was screened. (Afterwards, Stratton said he might warn people ahead of time that it was fake, to avoid any negative reactions.)

“One big misconception is I find people don’t think that happens in Canada,” said Joelle Brennan. “A lot of this is Canadian footage. We’re no different.”

Boileau said that the film festival isn’t about shocking people with slaughterhouse images the entire time, either, and was glad that the festival showcased a range of films. “The whole thing is about empathy and extending your circle of compassion,” he said. “There was a nice amount of variety.”

Stratton also celebrated the festival’s success afterwards. “I definitely think it was good,” said Stratton. “I wanted to pack as much in to the three hours. There’s 10 more films I probably could have showed here.”

He says he’s looking forward to growing the festival next year, or even taking the three-hour set of films on the road. “I wanna take it on tour, and take it Toronto and Vancouver and LA. I’ve been talking to this guy in Berlin who wants to take it over there,” he says. “It fits into this action-packed three hours. I’d love to make it a weekend, or a week, and make it like TIFF — who knows!” he laughs. “It’s never going to be like TIFF, but you gotta start small.”

For the community of vegans in the city, it’s events like these that help bring people together — and, they hope, grow the movement and expand the vegan community in Ottawa. “The vegan community in Ottawa is definitely getting stronger,” said Boileau. “We had our first animal rights march a couple months ago, I went to that, it was pretty nice.”

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