Canadian Sports Film Festival shines spotlight on social change


There’s a scene in the documentary “Raise the Bar” where the coach of a women’s basketball team in Iceland urges them to put each other down.

Russell Field, founding director of the Canadian Sports Film Festival, loves the questioning looks on the faces of young players.

“They hate it, they can’t do it. It’s not how they were socialized. The argument (from the coach) is that other teams are going to do this to you, you have to know how to deal with it, so we’ll practice,” Field said.

“It kind of pushes back all of our assumptions about what sport is, the lessons it teaches and gender roles in sport. I love that scene.

Provoking conversations about sport and its power to inspire social change is the goal of the festival, now in its 14th year.

“We see sport as a sort of lens through which broader social, political and human rights issues can be examined,” Field said. “Every screening we have is followed by a Q&A with a local person, film talent or the director. You don’t show a film without having a conversation.

At this year’s festival, taking place Friday and Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, many of those conversations will be about the girls and women pushing the boundaries from youth to high performance levels.

“Raise the Bar” – about unconventional training methods designed to empower girls from the age of 8, and an Icelandic team’s efforts to play against the boys – will open the festival with two short documentaries: “Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches” is about an Irish teenager changing the perception of darts as a men’s bar game; and “Why are we starting again? Ice Canoeing” is about the Canadian women who formed the first elite women’s ice canoe team to race on a circuit in Quebec.

The closing night feature is “Category: Woman” by Olympian and Canadian filmmaker Phyllis Ellis, about gender, race and human rights abuses in athletics.

The film sheds new light on the definition of female athletes and the controversial regulations that prohibit women such as South African runner Caster Semenya, whose body naturally produces high levels of testosterone, from competing in track events. 400 meters per mile.

“This year we have some incredible films that speak to the sporting experiences of the 51% of the population that are often underrepresented in popular portrayals of sport,” Field said. “So we’re really excited about that.”

Canadian Sports Film Festival

TIFF Bell Light Box, Toronto

November 18 and 19

Digital screening: Nov. 18 to 24 on


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