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Why Do We Need a Breast Cancer Film Festival?

Michelle Rothstein (below, left) is the Artistic Director of Breast Fest. With the festival almost a week away, she took time out to answer a few questions that I (maybe you) have about this emerging event

.donna g: With all the film festivals that Toronto has to offer, why add another festival to the scene and why a film festival about breast cancer?

Michelle Rothstein: There are over 70 different film festivals in Toronto and I think for good reason. The past century has shown us the true power of the moving image. We have now had a number of generations raised in a movie theatre, or watching films at home. Using film to tell stories, different perspectives, to showcase diversity, to provide a window into others lives is extremely powerful. At Breast Fest we are doing the same thing but to educate and create awareness around breast cancer. We use these films, our speaker series and other art forms, to connect people to our cause, inspire dialogue and facilitate learning. Using a darkened theatre to open people’s hearts and minds is an extraordinary vehicle to have people come to terms with many of their own experiences.

donna g: With so much "pinking" being marketed aren't you concerned about audience fatigue and the potential for cynicism?

Michelle Rothstein: Breast Fest is exactly the place to confront that fatigue and cynicism. Our festival is a place where some of the harder question surrounding the disease and cause are brought up. For instance, this year we are showing Lea Pool’s film Pink Ribbons Inc and rather than shying away from it as a breast cancer charity, we are facing the issues head on by following up the film with an amazing nuanced and balanced conversation specifically on breast cancer fundraising. We are calling the conversation 50 Shades of Pink. It should be an interesting one!

donna g: Breast cancer is seen as a women's issue, but Breast Fest has included a very powerful documentary, which deals in part with male breast cancer. Do you plan on doing any male-targeted promotion of  Rachel Libert's Semper Fi: Always Faithful?

Michelle Rothstein: Absolutely. First of all, as a breast cancer charity we have women and men involved all the time. Our programmes may specifically target younger women, but we are bringing our education, awareness and fundraising to a large populace. It is always important to us to engage both men and women. For Semper Fi specifically, Mike Partain, the young man featured in the film with breast cancer has written a blog for us. I encourage you to check it out and repost it. It is an amazing piece about his experience.

We have wanted to address male breast cancer for a while now, but remarkably, this is the first film that has touched upon it. We jumped at the chance to screen it as Breast Fest is a great vehicle to highlight some of the areas of breast cancer that are forgotten or rarely addressed.

donna g:  I was surprised to see Agnes Varda's classic film Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7) included in your film programme. It's one of my favourite films, but I'm curious as to why Breast Fest chose to include a film that was made in 1962?

Michelle Rothstein: First of all, the film is fabulous. It is gorgeous, beautifully shot and a classic. But besides all those amazing qualities, we on the advisory thought the perspective of a young woman waiting for a  cancer diagnosis was still quite fresh. Plus, it is our 5th anniversary and we wanted to do something fun!

donna g: How does your Clutch Fund work, and how can women access it?

Michelle Rothstein: We do approach donors to help us underwrite the cost of attending Breast Fest. It is extremely important that as an education and outreach program we make the festival accessible to all. While a $10 ticket may seem very little to some people that can pose a great challenge for young women in treatment, students, those who are employment challenged. Raising those funds helps us to make sure our audience and our discussions at Breast Fest and remain diverse. To access the Clutch Fund please email

Films $10, more or special events
Questions: 416-920-0980

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor Street West (at Bathurst)


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