The Breast Fest Film Festival, also known as Breast Fest, is the world’s only film festival dedicated to breast cancer awareness. This year, the event featured powerful documentaries, films, and a speakers series addressing key issues affecting the breast cancer community.
It is my pleasure to feature its Artistic Director, Michelle Rothstein.
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Michelle, thank you for answering my questions. As a starter, introduce yourself to the readers.
Michelle Rothstein: As you said already, I am the artistic director of Breast fest and have been with the festival since the very beginning, initially as an advisory member and then two years ago as the artistic director.
CM: Breast Fest is in its fourth year. Why did you decide to take part in the festival?
MR: I had a very close and dear friend, Debra Plotkin who passed away from breast cancer a number of years ago. She and I worked together at a film festival here in Toronto and she was a mentor to me. After her death in her forties, I knew I wanted to do get involved with the breast cancer cause, but never found anything that was the right fit. When Alison Gordon, our VP at Rethink Breast Cancer, approached me about a breast cancer film festival – I knew I had found the perfect way to honour her.
CM: How did you choose the guests and films of this year’s line-up?
MR: We work with a fantastic and supportive advisory committee. We review the films together and make decisions based on quality and subject matter. Sometimes we hold off on a film, as there may be another film we want to profile because it will start a dialogue that is currently missing, or underrepresented, on the breast cancer landscape. For instance, this year we showed a film entitled “One of The One Per Cent” about an Aboriginal woman, Sandra Ahenakew, and her breast cancer as well as the cancer in her family. We had wanted to deal with this topic for a couple of years now and when this film passed across my desk, we all knew that we would be featuring it at this year’s Breast Fest.
The guests are easier. It is always wonderful to have a filmmaker or actor present at the festival. It brings the films to life with a Q & A or panel following. It enriches the dialogue and helps build a stronger community which is what Breast Fest is all about. Resources are limited so sometimes you have to pick some over others, which is unfortunate, but we try our best to get as many guests here as possible.
CM: Is there one event that was more successful than the others? Why?
MR: This year we had our first ever comedy benefit on the Saturday night, which was hosted by Elvira Kurt and had amazing performers like Sandra Shamas and Gavin Crawford. We had absolutely no idea what to expect, but we sold out the theatre which seats over 300 people and the show was unreal. The comedian Dawn Whitwell helped get us the line-up as she is connected to everyone and came on as the producer a number of months back. At Rethink, we knew it was a risk – but we still went for it – something I adore about working here. It was more successful than we ever thought and frankly, probably one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.
CM: Any favourite moment?
MR: For a few years now, we have been bringing women who are experiencing breast cancer, or have experienced breast cancer, from across the country to Toronto for the festival weekend as guests of Breast Fest and Rethink Breast Cancer. This year, we were able to bring in a record 31 women via our Travel Subsidy Programme. It was extraordinary and created such an amazing vibe for the festival.
One of the most important mandates for Breast Fest is to create a community and these women are the heart of that. It starts with them and is what this festival is all about.
CM: How have people reacted to Breast Fest, since its inception in 2008? Have you noticed differences over the years?
MR: Each year we grow and grow and the word is spreading that this is an event not to be missed. The reactions from our audience are so amazing. I actually heard from one woman who has gone through breast cancer and is a number of years out, that the festival has become an important part of her annual cultural calendar. We love that.
CM: What can we expect to see in 2012?
MR: I would say more incredible programming that touches on issues that tend to be hidden within the breast cancer community. Look for amazing speakers, performers and of course, a great and inspirational weekend.
CM: Any last words?
MR: Breast Fest is an amazing outreach and education programme that uses film to open up people’s hearts and minds to new ideas and experiences. It is not simply about breast cancer, but about the human condition. You don’t have to be connected to the cause to come. There is much to be gained from the various insights of each film and speaker, whether you have had breast cancer or not. I believe four years in, people are starting to discover exactly that.
For more information on Breast Fest, visit www.breastfestfilmfest.com.
Cendrine Marrouat may be contacted for potential interviews, reviews and general enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.cendrinemarrouat.com.