Film educates and enlightens, promoting conversation and inspiration in all who bear witness to its vast artistic possibilities. Therefore, we believe in diversity and inclusion in the audiences who come to our home at TIFF Bell Lightbox, and that it is imperative the experience of cinema should be accessible for all.
As such, TIFF implemented the Seniors’ Film Fridays program in the summer of 2016, an initiative that organizes outings to TIFF Bell Lightbox for senior citizens in isolated circumstances across the Greater Toronto Area. By the end of the year, nearly 400 seniors from 17 community groups had participated in the program, which also engaged several senior citizen volunteers as Docents to help plan sessions and facilitate post-screening discussions. Seniors’ Film Fridays is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.
“It is such a pleasure to oversee the new Seniors' Film Friday programme at TIFF,” says Alexis Haradyn, Senior Coordinator, Docent Programme. “Those who attend the events, both participants and volunteers, are keenly engaged. Since launching the programme in June, we have welcomed many diverse groups from the community, including newcomer and women's groups. Listening in on the post-film discussions is one of the most rewarding parts of my job -- the enthusiasm from the groups is palpable. The popularity of this programme tells me that cinema and ongoing learning opportunities are important to our local seniors, and it is amazing that we can provide an outlet for meaningful experience and discussion. We are currently booking groups through March and I look forward to being a part of it!”
One of the groups that attended the program was the Older Women’s Network, a 30 year old organization based in Toronto’s Esplanade neighbourhood. We spoke with Erin Harris, OWN’s past Chair and Research Chair, and current Chief Operating Officer, about the history of the group and their experience at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Hello Erin! What is the history and mission of the Older Women’s Network?
We are a volunteer feminist advocacy organization that addresses social and political issues that affect midlife and older women. We proudly support women’s greater representation on power and decision-making bodies.
OWN, its members, and designated representatives work independently and collaboratively for social justice issues by influencing federal, provincial and municipal roundtables, seniors’ strategy committees and sister organizations, recognizing universal declarations, charters, covenants and resolutions as they pertain to women and seniors.
Through “systems thinking”, OWN initiates public discussions that relate to the social and safety determinants of health. We live in a world that is increasingly complex, interconnected, and constantly changing. We are continuously confronted with complex problems that hard to solve.
“Systems thinking” can offer a different way of thinking and solving problems effectively. We do not address causes in isolation, but rather choose to understand how a system works as a whole, and how individual causes interact and change over time. This holistic approach reduces unintended consequences and outcomes.
We enrich our members’ lives by coordinating social and educational activities. Currently we are engaged in a Creative Aging series as well as Housing Literacy events which promote universal design, and barrier-free, accessible, adaptable, visitable models.
OWN’s Social Link programme offers members a series of social activities on a monthly basis, such as La Vie en Rose, which provides French conversation to women once a month. The writers groups and OWN sponsored book club here at 115 Esplanade, North Toronto and North York Central Library are thriving.
How did OWN begin their work with TIFF?
TIFF approached us and explained their interest in community engagement through an SDC grant (NEW Horizons) and a collaborative partnership emerged.
They announced to us that in June 2016, just in time for Seniors’ Month, they were introducing a free Seniors’ Film Friday programme. This offering included complimentary screenings followed by facilitated discussions about the film over complimentary coffee and tea. The half-day experience would be completely free of charge for our members, as well as the cost of Wheel-Trans from one or two locations.
What was the experience like for your members?
The women who attended ranged between 58 and 75 years of age, and they thoroughly enjoyed the movies and post-film facilitated discussions (Born to be Blue, Love and Friendship, and The Eagle Huntress were screened). I came to two of the three screenings, and witnessed the exuberance of our members in describing how they felt transported by the films.
I also like networking with people wherever I go, so it was great to be able to bring brochures and raise awareness about older women’s issues while attending. We all found the diversity of participants a rich experience which we look forward to again.
What does a programme like Seniors’ Film Fridays mean to OWN and its members?
Collaborative partnerships are essential for community input and volunteer participation. We all love supporting culture and the arts. Seniors and intergenerational projects are an effective way to involve citizens that might not know about TIFF, their movies and events, and the Film Festival in September.
Seniors’ Film Fridays is a welcomed luxury to members on fixed incomes, and the programme helps to reduce social isolation. Thank you for having a programme available to the Older Women’s Network. It has been thoroughly enjoyable for all.