World community society celebrating 20 years

Turning 20 is a momentous occasion that usually involves a big party. But not for the World Community Development Education Society (WCDES)

THIS SCENE is from Budrus

THIS SCENE is from Budrus

Turning 20 is a momentous occasion that usually involves a big party. But not for the World Community Development Education Society (WCDES)

Their celebratory bash will be a public, yet low-key, get-together at Zocalo Café once the final flick in this year’s Feb. 4 to 5 World Community Film Festival has run.

When WCDES held their first event in 1991, they had no idea that two decades later they’d be B.C.’s longest-running social justice documentary film festival. Or that they’d be taking the show on the road, become early pioneers in the fair trade movement, be providing bikes for low-income local folks and a host of other initiatives.

Wayne Bradley, a WCDES director, missed the first meeting in July 1990 but attended the second one. “I’d never been to a film festival and when I heard people talking about a four-venue, two-day affair, I thought they were crazy,” he admits. “But I kept my mouth shut. And I turned out to be completely wrong.”

It all started when Frank Tester, a UBC professor with a home on Denman Island, tried to get CUSO interested in developing a film festival as an educational tool. CUSO was interested but wanted to encourage activity outside of the Lower Mainland.

So, a government job development grant was obtained and three Comox Valley residents collecting unemployment benefits were hired to organize the project.

“The film festival has become a genuine part of the fabric of the community,” notes Bradley. “A lot of people look forward to it every year. And it’s a real positive for people involved in social change to be able to get together in their own community.”

But everything didn’t go as initially planned. In 1990 there were approximately 12 film festivals across Canada, all receiving government funding. WCDES thought they’d hold one festival, then apply for funding for future events. But the funding dried up, meaning most of the festivals went belly-up.

“So we were stuck with making do,” explains Bradley. “We had no real sense of what we were doing; no vision of building something that would last and eventually travel across Canada. Our saving grace, I think, was that we weren’t afraid to look at new ideas.”

A major change occurred in the organization’s third year. “That’s when we wondered if we were voyeurs watching the world’s problems,” says Bradley. “We decided to make connections with partner groups in developing countries. That’s when some of us went to Nicaragua and got involved in fair trade.”

Today, WCDES is a volunteer-driven organization with around 80 people involved at festival time. The main source of funding for many years has been the annual contribution from the Campbell River and Courtenay Labour Council. In recent years, due to escalating costs, WCDES has solicited sponsors from the local community.

But WCDES isn’t just about movies. From funds raised selling fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate and other items, they sponsor primary health-care promoters in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In 2009, they shipped around 400 bicycles to Nicaragua. Although that’s too expensive to repeat, they’ve continued to repair and donate bikes to local low-income residents and their children.

WCDES is also involved with and the annual Earth Day event, and recently partnered with Vancouver Island MusicFest to promote fair trade and organic purchasing and sales policies. They’ve also built up a lending library of films, currently housed at Freakin’ Café in Tin Town, with some movies available at Seeds Market in Cumberland.

“The film festival remains our flagship project,” says Bradley. “The films reflect what’s happening around the world and locally. They instill a sense of solidarity, that socially conscious people are not alone in their goals and concerns.”

This year, counting the Courtenay screening, the film festival will be shown in 12 locations across Canada including Yellowknife and Nova Scotia.

“The biggest change, of course, has been technology,” notes Bradley. “A person had to be half-donkey to make a documentary with 16-millimetre film. Now they can slip a digital camera in their pocket. It’s made it easy for more people to make films and tell stories.

“And, in the beginning, all the stories were grim,” he adds. “Now more of the films show a solution to a problem; they’re more uplifting. This year we even have a film called Laughology — it’s a study of laughter and how it’s dealt with in different cultures.”

Tickets for the World Community Film Festival are available at the Sid Williams Theatre. If you don’t have a program and want to see what’s on, visit And don’t forget the closing party at the Zocalo on Saturday night.