Kira Pooni, Baljit Sangra, Salakshana Pooni, Jeeti Pooni and the Williams Lake Film Club’s Patricia Weber prepare for the viewing of Because We are Girls in Williams Lake at Paradise Cinemas. (Greg Sabatino photos)

VIDEO: Sold out crowd for Because We Are Girls premiere in Williams Lake

“It’s astounding to be in our own community and be able to experience what we’re experiencing today.”

It was an emotional, uplifting and inspirational afternoon Sunday in the lakecity when three Williams Lake sisters returned home to premieree their documentary about sexual abuse: Because We Are Girls.

Directed by Baljit Sangra, the film follows documentary subjects Jeeti, Kira and Salakshana Pooni, and their family, in their empowering, feminist, cinematic and hopeful story that shows the impact of sexual violence, which happened to the sisters at the hands of a cousin while they were growing up as young children in a strict South Asian immigrant family in Williams Lake.

Shot in Williams Lake and Surrey, the film also bears witness to the lengthy, emotional toll of pursuing justice, years later, through the courts for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The Williams Lake premiere of Because We Are Girls was made possible through a collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada, the Williams Lake Film Club and Paradise Cinemas.

Paradise Cinemas owner David Hothi donated the screening fees, while the Williams Lake Film Club donated all of the proceeds from ticket sales to Chiwid Transition House in Williams Lake. The Women’s Contact Society also had staff available during the afternoon to provide resources, and to offer help, to anyone who needed it.

READ MORE: Shattering cultural stigmas: Three Punjabi-Canadian sisters tell their story of sexual violence

“There was a great interest to bring the film here to Williams Lake,” Hothi said, who was blown away by the community response as documentary-goers lined up down Fourth Avenue to take in the film. “The girls and the film club have done an outstanding job promoting it, and what a great reception this is.”

The screening was so well received, in fact, that after selling out its large theatre, Hothi made the decision to open another theatre at Paradise Cinemas, which also sold out.

“It’s absolutely fabulous,” Jeeti told the Tribune on witnessing the community’s welcoming response to the film. “It’s astounding to be in our own community and be able to experience what we’re experiencing today. Thanks to the NFB and the film club, our director and all the folks that came out.”

Prior to the start of the film the sisters told the Tribune how proud they were to be able to show the documentary in their former hometown. After experiencing several years of abuse growing up, many more being silent and then several more years seeking justice in the court system, the women said their main goal in making the film was to help others find the courage to speak out.

READ MORE: Because We Are Girls to screen at Paradise Cinemas

“A lot of women are coming forward and sharing not only what they’ve been through, but also what their daughters, or their grandmothers, have been through,” said Kira. “We need to stand strong as their voice and if we’re able to have them take some of the courage from how we’ve taken the steps to do this — hopefully they can borrow a bit of that strength and be able to follow whatever their journey is in life and look at our journey and our ability to speak out and be that voice.”

Sangra, meanwhile, said Because We Are Girls has been screened so far 14 times in Vancouver, five times in Toronto, in Waterloo, Ont., in Calgary, in Surrey, in Halifax, in Seattle, in Korea and now in Williams Lake.

“It’s been received so well,” she said. “People have been reaching out to find out how they can play it and we’re really thrilled we were able to bring it to Williams Lake.”

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Paradise Cinemas owner David Hothi and manager Gord Moon donated screening fees, while the Williams Lake Film Club donated ticket sales to Chiwid Transition House in Williams Lake.

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