Opinion

One-minute films carry powerful messages

Craig and Marc Kielberger.

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

In this Sept. 9, 2008 file photo, multi-millionaire Frank Giustra talks about his teaming up with then-president Bill Clinton to sponsor a $100 million initiative to fund sustainable development in Latin America. (Ian Smith/Vancouver Sun/Postmedia Network)

In this Sept. 9, 2008 file photo, multi-millionaire Frank Giustra talks about his teaming up with then-president Bill Clinton to sponsor a $100 million initiative to fund sustainable development in Latin America. (Ian Smith/Vancouver Sun/Postmedia Network)

Worried that the Syrian refugee crisis is slipping from the daily news and our conscience, businessman and philanthropist Frank Giustra challenged Canada's creative community to share unforgettable stories of displacement, loss and hope.

"To effectively address the refugee crisis, we need the power and action of many," he told us.

In June, his charity, the Radcliffe Foundation, launched a competition for Canadian filmmakers to produce a one-minute films that raise awareness about refugees and inspire Canadians to action.

Craig was asked to help judge submissions, alongside director Atom Egoyan, musician Sarah McLachlan and others. From 10 entries, they chose the top three.

Until Sept. 23, Canadians can vote for their favourite. It won't take long -- Craig watched the videos on his phone in the back of a taxi -- and we promise these will be the most powerful three minutes of your week.

The winning film will be screened at the Vancouver Film Festival, Sept. 29 to Oct. 14, and Guistra hopes broadcasters and movie theatres will pick it up to spread awareness.

The one-minute format was chosen to fit modern viewing trends.

"People today, especially the younger generations, consume news and information through shorter pieces, I saw the need for a short film that could engage this audience," Giustra said.

Although just one winner will be chosen, the three finalists are more powerful when viewed together.

Begin with Helpful Hand, directed by Vancouver's Alexandru Nagy. Without words, the simple but gorgeous animation immerses you in the fear, despair and hope of one little girl fleeing carnage for Canada. This film captures the potential within every refugee when they're given a hand up (as opposed to a handout).

Those granted asylum arrive in Canada with little more than the clothes they wear. Helping meet their many needs isn't just a job for our governments and refugee sponsors. We can all play a part.

Humanity, directed by another Vancouverite, Zeeshan Parwez, is an empowering call to action that captures the many ways Canadians can continue to make a difference in the lives of those we have granted refuge -- from donating clothes and household items to helping refugees find jobs and connect with community services.

And then there's our favourite -- Show the World by documentary company The Cutting Factory. The film interviews Ian Crerar, an entrepreneur from Kingston who says he "won the lottery" when he sponsored a Syrian family. In one shot, the Syrian and Canadian families are crammed around a tiny table, sharing a meal. There's no fear or clash of cultures. "At the end of the day, good people are good people," says Crerar.

Those heart-warming images of shared joy, of two families from different worlds discovering they're just the same were incredibly moving and put this film over the top for us.

In the face of the refugee crisis, Canada is in a much different position than the nations of Europe. We do not have hundreds of thousands of desperate people crashing upon our shores. We can choose who and how many we welcome.

What will we do with that choice?

That's the question for Canadians to answer: are we done with the 30,000 refugees we've welcomed into the country, or will we do more?

The message in these films is that, if we choose to do more, we will show the world what a truly compassionate nation looks like.

Vote for your favourite refugee story at: refugeestories.viff.org

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.