Former Williams Lake resident Jeeti Pooni in video posted to social media channels on Tuesday (June 11).

Former Williams Lake resident Jeeti Pooni in video posted to social media channels on Tuesday (June 11).

Because We Are Girls screening set for Sunday, Nov. 3 at Paradise Cinemas

Film to start at 4 p.m., followed by discussion with filmmaker Baljit Sangra and the Pooni sisters

Submitted by the Williams Lake Film Club

In partnership with the Paradise Cinemas and the National Film Board of Canada, the Williams Lake Film Club will be providing the opportunity to view the important documentary, Because We Are Girls, at the Paradise Cinemas on Sunday Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. The film has a local significance to Williams Lake, as the story takes place here and much of the filming is on location in Williams Lake. The film also has a broader cultural significance, and speaks specifically to the experience of young girls growing up in a South Asian community in a small town. The event will be a fundraiser for Chiwid Transition House, with all proceeds from ticket sales going to the 16 bed unit which provides a haven for women and their children who have been physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused.

In Because We Are Girls, filmmaker Baljit Sangra follows the story of the Pooni sisters – Jeeti, Kira and Salakshana – all now in their forties – who grew up in a Punjabi immigrant family in Williams Lake in the 80s. When a male relative from India is welcomed into their childhood home, he starts a pattern of sexual abuse with all three girls that goes on for years, and remains a secret until the girls are adults and decide to come forward.

Read More: Shattering cultural stigmas: Three Punjabi-Canadian sisters tell their story of sexual violence

The film chronicles their decision to speak up and to launch a court case against their cousin when they learn he is still abusing. The film thoughtfully and sensitively explores how living in an entrenched and traditional patriarchal male culture that expects girls to be subservient and submissive can perpetuate abuse, while also investigating the dynamics of a broader community that subjects them to racism and hostility.

The film is careful not to blame or point fingers, which ultimately creates a powerful examination of racism, sexism and resiliency that is applicable to all cultures. As Sangra describes the film, “[t]he court case is a big thread, but it’s also about family, relationships, the immigrant experience, and racism … It’s like I’m peeling this onion, and you don’t realize the layers until you start doing it, and there are just more and more” (quoted in The Georgia Straight).

Although the subject matter is distressing, the film never becomes sensationalistic. Sangra carefully employs the use of first person interviews, family photos, and archival footage. Bollywood film clips are interwoven throughout the film in a complex commentary on the role and importance of Bollywood films, which helped shaped the childhood ideas the girls had about purity, submission, romance, and honour. The film also uncovers how the impacts of sexual abuse can last a lifetime.

Read More: Surrey sister reacts to stayed charges in sex-assault case profiled in documentary

The film features many iconic Williams Lake locations, including Scout Island, the River Valley Trail, and the Courthouse and is essential viewing to those who wish to better understand the dynamics of our rich and diverse community. Although the subject matter is heartbreaking, the film is a beautiful and moving testament to the power of family, sisterhood and solidarity, and points a way forward for victims living and coping with the trauma of sexual abuse. As Sangra reflects, “[w]e’re committed to making change. And the more we talk about it, the bigger impact it has” (quoted in The Georgia Straight).

Tickets are $10, with all proceeds donated to Chiwid Transition House. Tickets will be available for purchase at the Paradise Cinemas Box Office from 1 p.m. on the day of the event. The film will start at 4 p.m., and will be followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Baljit Sangra and the Pooni sisters.


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