Director Shawn Stratton hopes the films make people think about what they're consuming, and the effect their choices are having on Earth
There are vegan meals, vegan pubs and vegan clothing. But until last October, there was no vegan film festival. Anywhere. At least not that Shawn Stratton could find.
The Ottawa native and his family became vegan in 2015, when his surgeon wife, former Olympian swimmer Alexandra (née Lys), began searching for alternative solutions to help with injury recovery while training for a marathon.
“Around the same time, we watched a movie called Vegucated,” Stratton said. “That got her thinking, and within a month she decided to try a 30-day vegan challenge. She just went cold turkey one day, and she hasn’t eaten meat since.”
Stratton was a little slower to come around, but not much.
“About a month later, we watched Forks Over Knives, another popular documentary in the vegan movement,” he said. “That did it for me. I saw it, realized the health benefits and wondered, ‘Why isn’t everybody (vegan)?’ ”
A few years down the road, with the Strattons and their three children fully enjoying their new lifestyle, Stratton wanted to do his part for the cause.
“I had grown a passion for the whole plant-based eating, veganism thing,” said the ultra-marathon runner, author and former wilderness expedition guide, who also works as a leadership and team development consultant.
“I was thinking about how I could get involved in the vegan community and use my skills.”
He considered starting a vegan food festival, but Ottawa already had one. Then, since he and his wife had been so influenced by the above-mentioned films, he wondered about a vegan film festival.
“I thought maybe there was a film festival out there I could bring to Ottawa. But I began to research and there was no vegan film festival elsewhere in the world. So the leader and entrepreneur in me took the opportunity to create one.”
The inaugural Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival took place last October and has been touring other cities since, including Berlin, Vancouver, Toronto, St. John’s, Connecticut, L.A., Miami and a stop Thursday, Aug. 29 in Montreal.
Stratton and his selection committee sought out films from around the world on various aspects of veganism. Of the 28 submissions received, they selected eight. Seven of those are shorts of 15 minutes or less. Combined with a 45-minute excerpt from Paul David Kennamer Jr.’s feature Eating You Alive, which looks at the direct links between nutrition and health, they created a two-hour vegan viewing experience.
Alex Lockwood’s grand prize winner, 73 Cows, is a portrait of a British beef farmer who decided to save his cattle and begin growing organic produce instead.
“The film follows him throughout the process, over three years,” Stratton said, “right up to the successful outcome of him getting all his cows to a sanctuary. It’s really moving.”
Promises and Undercover are two short documentaries produced by Toronto photographer Jo-Ann McArthur’s We Animals Media.
“Promises is almost a poem,” Stratton said. “The filmmaker (McArthur, who made the doc with director Jan Sorgenfrei) goes into a chicken coop, sits on the floor and watches the chickens come over to her. It’s a very powerful film, which highlights the atrocities happening on chicken farms without having to show any gruesome evidence.”
Undercover, on the other hand, shows that gruesome evidence, offering a three-minute, 33-second plunge into the reality of such places; but it’s the only film in the bunch that goes so far, Stratton emphasizes, and he sets it up with a trigger warning.
Other entries include: Mother’s Monologue, by Iran’s Marzieh Kamyabi and Mehdi Shaafi, observing people eating meat as they watch increasingly gruesome imagery about the meat industry; For the Voiceless, Canadian hockey player Jordan Owens’s account of his journey from meat-eating athlete to vegan activist; and Evan’s Video About Climate Change, by Paul Magee Berry and Ray Kowalchuk, detailing a seven-year-old’s thoughts on the dire state of the environment, including the impact of animal agriculture on the Earth’s carbon cycle.
Ultimately, Stratton hopes the films make people think about what they’re putting in their bodies, and the effect their choices are having on the planet.
“I want vegans to be inspired to keep on living their plant-based lifestyle,” he said, “and for people thinking about (such a lifestyle) to be educated. Most vegans want the whole world to be living their lifestyle; this is my small part to help out with that.”
The Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival holds a special screening on Thursday, Aug. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Dollar Cinema, 6900 Decarie Blvd. Tickets cost $20, $15 for students, available at oivff.com