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Film festival grapples with provocative global health issues

King Corn, a 2007 documentary about government intervention in the corn industry and its impact on the fast food industry, is one of seven films that will show during UTSC's International Health Film Series and Expo.

Ken Tong (HBA, 1997) has witnessed first-hand the devastation that HIV/AIDS has wreaked on under-developed countries.

As part of Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the UTSC alumnus worked in South Africa from 2010-12, bringing global attention to the plight of those suffering from HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases and advocating for international intervention.

Tong will share his experiences at the screening of Fire in the Blood – one of seven films being shown at the inaugural University of Toronto Scarborough’s International Health Film Series and Expo. Organized by students and faculty in UTSC’s Health Studies Program, the event runs for seven nights throughout the month of March.

The 2013 documentary Fire in the Blood, narrated by Academy-award winner William Hurt, tells the story of how western governments and pharmaceutical firms blocked access to low-cost AIDS medication in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world until public pressure forced change.

Fire in the Blood is an important film because it marks a critical moment when society and political will turned the direction of HIV treatment in South Africa,” says Tong, a graduate of UTSC’s co-op program in International Development Studies. “In many ways, this mobilization of NGOs, industry, political will and most importantly, civil society became a flagship for HIV intervention in low-resource areas around the world.”

The Film Festival is open to the public and admission is free, thanks to funding from UTSC’s Student’s 50th Fund, a granting program launched during the campus’ semicentennial designed to promote projects that provide students with exceptional experiences of learning, discovery and citizenship.

Each night will feature a different documentary or movie that will be presented by UTSC professors and guest experts from their respective fields. Prior to each film, viewers can attend an exposition on the topic that will feature such activities as interactive media stations, exhibits of students’ coursework, and topical literature (for free or for sale).

The topics are timely and provocative: HIV/AIDS, homelessness, Alzheimer’s, eugenics, food security, revolutionary medicine and access to life-saving drugs.

Dr. Suzanne Sicchia, a lecturer in the Health Studies program, says a key reason for launching this annual public education event is to engage the community in a critical dialogue – through the highly accessible and popular medium of film – about social, health and societal issues that affect us all.

“It is an entry point into a deeper conversation about health issues,” says Sicchia. “We want to interact with the community in an impactful way.”

Fourth-year student Rashi Gupta became involved in the Festival in his capacity as president of the Anthropology and Health Studies Student Association. He sees the festival as a perfect way to encourage students to think critically about broad societal issues that affect people around the world.

“I adore movies and the power they have to deliver an important and transcendent message, and I felt that the documentaries and films that would be shown during the month of March would resonate with students,” says Gupta, who is completing a double major in Anthropology and Health Studies. “The films will deliver messages around international development, political science, global health and education that we do not even learn about in classrooms.”

Kira Paisley, 21, a third-year International Development Studies student who also helped organize the event, likes the fact that the Festival is multi-disciplinary, bringing a number of different academic departments together around a common theme – “demonstrating that everything really is a health issue.”

Tong grew up during the AIDS crisis and has experienced the human impact of the pandemic.  He was eager to pass along his experiences in South Africa and to start a conversation amongst students and the community about global health issues.

“I feel that people should watch it to be reminded that what happens in this world is up to us; the bad and the good and everything in between. There are fundamental human experiences which transcend time, place, and culture, which we can all relate to, and one of these is our health.”

In addition to Fire in the Blood, the festival will also feature:

Revolutionary Medicine – a 2014 documentary about a remote town in Honduras that built its own hospital.

How to Survive a Plague – a 2012 documentary about how AIDS activists became instrumental in the early fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States. 

You’re Looking at Me Like I Live Here and I Don’t – a 2010 documentary about a woman living with Alzheimer’s. 

Give Me a Shot of Anythinga 2011 documentary about the homeless in Boston and a team of doctors who care for them. 

King Corn – a 2007 documentary about government intervention in the corn industry and its impact on production and use of corn products in the North American fast food industry. 

Gattaca – a 1997 feature film starring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke that explores the issue of genetic engineering.

Click here for more information about the Film Festival and Expo.

© University of Toronto Scarborough