Shirin Younessian of the Bee’s Knees Café will lead a workshop on Persian cuisine and dance as part of the Anti-Racism Arts Festival. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

Anti-Racism Arts Festival gets do-over in Nanaimo after being cancelled last year

Online festival to feature 48-hour filmmaking challenge, cultural workshop series

Last year, on the eve of the fifth annual Anti-Racism Arts Festival, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry directed event organizers to cancel all gatherings with more than 250 people.

That move led organizer Jennifer Fowler to call off the event, which had be held in a different city each year since being founded by Calgary’s Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation in 2016 and was set to make its Nanaimo debut.

“The volunteers from Calgary arrived the night before Dr. Bonnie shut us down, so they’re in their Airbnb here in Nanaimo and they came to the office and I’m like, ‘Have you guys heard the news? We can’t do this,'” said Fowler, executive director of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society. “At least they had a little bit of a holiday in Nanaimo for the weekend.”

This year, the festival is getting a do-over. From March 12 to 20 Nanaimo will again host the event, and in order to adhere to COVID-19 regulations it will be held online.

The Anti-Racism Arts Festival started as a film festival and the 48-hour film challenge remains the main event. Teams have until March 11 to sign up for the contest, and on March 12 the groups will be given a quote to include in their film. The teams then have the weekend to complete their films, which Fowler said should be around five minutes in length.

The submissions will be screened virtually on March 20 with a panel of local judges selecting the winners. First prize is $400, runner up gets $250 and $150 goes to the third-place finisher.

“The neat piece about this being online is we anticipate to have folks who are Vancouver Island-wide participating,” Fowler said. “We actually had a few folks last year even from Vancouver who signed up who didn’t get to participate, so it’ll be interesting to see how doing it in this format will attract people who aren’t from here.”

Other events happening during the course of the festival include a ‘Food and Learn Series,’ in which participants are taught how to cook Filipino, Persian and Chinese cuisines while learning a bit about language and culture. Snuneymuxw elder Gary Manson will give an introduction to Hul’q’umi’num while his wife Donna will present a sacred hand drum-making workshop. There will also be presentations on the history and significance of Sikh turbans, African braids and hip-hop. Before the final film screening there will be a panel discussion on “addressing racism in our community.”

“The whole idea is that creating workshops around art or food or the sharing of culture, it creates a different kind of dialogue for many people…” Fowler said. “Diversity, inclusion and racism work can be approached in different ways and this festival is one of those ways.”

WHAT’S ON … 2021 Anti-Racism Arts Festival takes place online from March 12 to 20. To sign up for the 48-hour film challenge or other workshops, to view past film submissions and for more information, click here.

RELATED: Travelling Anti-Racism Arts Festival coming to Nanaimo


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