Bringing diverse documentaries to St. John's audiences

May 22nd, 2014

Janet Harron

Bringing diverse documentaries to St. John's audiences

St. John’s might be a city without a downtown movie theatre but it does have a branch of Cinema Politica, the largest volunteer-run, community and campus-based documentary-screening network in the world.

And that’s thanks to sociology PhD student Paula Graham who launched Cinema Politica St. John’s in the spring of 2013. 

Interested in social movements and activism, Ms. Graham believes that documentaries are both accessible and powerful.

“We can talk about politics and social issues without it being a stuffy formalized patriarchal thing. In this capitalist world, where the media is owned by particular people, there is a limited amount of information available from mainstream media,” said Ms. Graham. “A filmmaker is an artist – films can go into depth and interview people you are not going to see in the news or read in a newspaper.”

Screenings are held on the Memorial campus and are by donation. After a membership fee to Cinema Politica is paid and costs are covered, the balance of any money collected is donated to a local charity. The Department of Sociology is a co-sponsor of the program. Moderated discussions are held after each screening.

To date Cinema Politica St. John’s has hosted over 19 screenings. The films have been as diverse as Buying Sex, a feature exploring the state of prostitution laws in Canada, and Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change by Nunavut-based director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner).

Ms. Graham has also developed a number of collaborations, partnering with organizations such as the Council for Canadians, the National Film Board’s St. John’s office, the Food Security Network (NL) and Memorial’s Aboriginal Resource Office, to name a few. 

The response of audiences has been encouraging to the Ontario native, who came to Memorial from New Brunswick where she completed her masters degree.

“We have a healthy range of students and faculty attending – I think the younger generation gets it that media is both an art form and a news source. There are a lot of scary things happening in the world right now. After watching a film together, everyone has the same reference … maybe documentaries and film and the arts is a gentler way to engage people.” 

Her favourite films from the past year are those that show average people taking direct action towards social, political and environmental justice. She cites Salmon Confidential as an example. 

“The filmmakers interviewed several people who volunteer with the ‘Department of Wild Salmon,’ which is a completely voluntary community group that teaches people how to take inventories on the health of wild salmon stocks in B.C. as the government (Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans) refuses to conduct comprehensive research on the state of wild salmon.” 

Another standout for Ms. Graham is The Pipe, an Irish film which follows a group of local fisherman as they fight oil giant Shell’s plans to build a pipeline through their village and fishing grounds.

“These types of films are highlights for me because they show regular people, who we can all relate to, standing up to political corruption and corporate greed.  These films show audiences that you don't have to be a scientist or a politician or a 'radical' to identify injustice and do something about it.”

The next Cinema Politica screening will be collaboration with the local chapter of Amnesty International and the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre on June 24.  For further details visit or