Film fest offers heavy topics with a light touch

With no lower lip, and bulging blue veins snaking across half his face, David Roche stands out in a crowd. And that’s the way he likes it.

With no lower lip, and bulging blue veins snaking across half his face, David Roche stands out in a crowd.

And that’s the way he likes it.

As a humourist and entertainer, Roche enjoys being the centre of attention.

He’s taken his disfigurement — what many might consider a negative — and turned it into a positive using his keen wit and a light touch.

“There are plenty of guys in show business like me — Freddie Kruger, Igor, Frankenstein, Quasimodo, the Phantom of the Opera… Those are my homeboys,” Roche quips in the film Shameless: The ART of disability.

It’s one of 15 films that will hit local screens over four days for the Yukon Film Society’s Available Light Film Festival.

Shameless is slated to show on Friday at the Beringia Centre at 7:15 p.m., and filmmaker Bonnie Sherr Klein will be in Whitehorse on Saturday morning to host a workshop: Filmmaking for Social Change at 10 a.m.

Roche is just one of the five compelling personalities that Klein profiles in the National Film Board-supported documentary.

Persimmon Blackbridge is a “junk” artist and writer with a learning disability and an inclination for cutting.

Catherine Frazee, born without muscle tone in most of her body, is a celebrated speaker, teacher and human-rights activist.

Geoffrey McMurchy is an artist and choreographer, who became quadriplegic after a diving accident in the late ‘70s.

And Klein herself was a prolific filmmaker who earned fame in 1981 with Not a Love Story: A film about pornography, one of the most commercially successful and popular films the National Film Board ever made.

But her film career was interrupted by a catastrophic stroke in 1987 that left her quadriplegic and thinking about what it means to have a disability.

For a long time she couldn’t look at herself in the mirror.

She had trouble coming to terms with what she’d lost.

So as a way of healing, Klein decided to turn the camera on herself and four of her friends.

Shameless was the result, and the film lives up to its title.

The five artists and interpreters mercilessly push back at the stereotypes related to disability and the shame they carry around.

It’s a hard film to watch.

But it holds a lot of hope.

That’s why it appealed to Available Light’s programmers — Dave Haddock and Celia McBride.

“We weren’t looking for a theme, but we kept encountering a lot of films about the state of the world,” said McBride.

“We wanted to show that the world is in trouble, but we also wanted people to be entertained and not leave every single movie wanting to kill themselves,” she said.

So they strived to find a balance — films that make a statement and are enjoyable to watch.

“The light is coming back and people are starting to come out of hibernation, yet spring is still a long way off so we might need some sort of escape,”  said McBride.

Hosting the festival so soon after the Games presented a bit of a scheduling nightmare for organizers.

“We had to figure out a way to work with the Games instead of have them crush us altogether,” said McBride.

So the Film Society compromised and hosted Cinematic Territories — a day of films from the three territories — as part of the Games cultural component.

And now it’s completing the late-winter series with the festival running from Thursday to Sunday.

After a busy two weeks of working on the Games, four days of movies may be just what the doctor ordered.

“People might be burnt out this week, but the great thing about going to movies is that it doesn’t require a lot of energy,” said McBride.

“You can just relax and let your mind go.”

The festival begins on Thursday evening with Away From Her at 6:45 p.m. and Monkey Warfare at 9 p.m. at the Qwanlin Cinema.

It continues on Friday with an official opening reception at 6 p.m. at the Beringia Centre.

Tickets are $7 at the door for Yukon Film Society members and $8 for future members. There are also five-screening passes on sale for $35 at the door and at Arts Underground on Main Street.