How one resident of the Canadian capital is challenging lockstep leftist ideology, one film at a time.
The year was 2006. Fred Litwin couldn't help noticing that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was playing all over his hometown of Ottawa – “in the main cinemas, in the repertory cinemas, on campus, and it was the talk of TV. I couldn't escape it.”
Then he learned about a documentary called Michael Moore Hates America, made by a relatively unknown filmmaker named Mike Wilson. “I asked a local rep cinema if they would bring it in, since his film was not available on DVD. They quickly replied that they wouldn't.” So Litwin decided to bring it to Ottawa himself.
This was not his line of work. He had an MBA in finance, and over the years had worked in various business enterprises in New York, Britain, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In 2000 he had retired to start his own successful music label, NorthernBlues.
Over the years his politics had shifted. A socialist during his student days, he was moved after 9/11 by David Horowitz's The Politics of Bad Faith. The left's hysteric response to 9/11 bewildered him. “I could hardly believe hearing people questioning whether Bin Laden was behind it or whether the US had it coming. I couldn't be part of that. And, when I started seeing some of my liberal friends abandon Israel during the second Intifada – a time when suicide bombers were regularly killing people in Israel – I then completely moved to the right.”
Thus his response to the ubiquity of Fahrenheit 9/11, and his desire to get a look at Michael Moore Hates America. Litwin knew little about organizing film screenings, but he made some calls. Finally he paid $400 to rent a small theater in the St. Laurent shopping mall. By this point, Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West had come out, and Litwin thought it might be a good idea to start off with that one instead. “I rented the cinema for a January 2007 showing and I was off to the races.”
Well, not really. Before the screening could take place, the manager of the theater he'd rented pulled out. Why? She'd received an e-mail – exactly one – from a retired professor saying that the film was offensive to Muslims. “That was enough for them to cancel it.” But Litwin turned lemons into lemonade: the cancellation made headlines in the Ottawa Sun, he ended up showing it elsewhere, and the turnout was impressive. “I should have sent that retired professor some chocolates.”
That was just the beginning of what Litwin dubbed the Free Thinking Film Society, a venue for politically incorrect films that would otherwise never get shown in Ottawa theaters – films about topics like radical Islam, free speech, support for Israel and opposition to Communism. Among the films he has screened, often at the Library & Archives Canada, have been Che: Anatomy of a Myth; The Monster among Us, about anti-Semitism in Europe; Not Evil, Just Wrong, on global warming hysteria; UN Me, a critical look at the UN; and Crossing West, about North Korea.
Attendance at FTFS screenings has grown steadily. Litwin markets each film differently: “When we showed the film The Soviet Story about the crimes of the Soviet Union, we did a lot of marketing to the Ukrainian and Polish communities and over 325 people came out.”
Though ignored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and routinely treated with disrespect by the Ottawa's left-leaning free weekly, the FTFS gets good coverage from conservative media outlet CFRA.
The success of the film programs inspired Litwin to start bringing in speakers as well. I was honored to be the first; others have included Bat Ye’or and David Littman; in May, Litwin hosted Geert Wilders's first appearance in Canada. In November of last year FTFS held its first film festival, featuring films about the 1940 Katyn massacre, surveillance in East Germany, the role of unions in US public schools, the Durban “racism” conferences, anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian schools, and much else. This November, the second annual festival will feature films about the Ukrainian famine, Judeophobia, the left-wing bias of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the fate of Jews in Libya, the need for DDT in Africa, English-language rights in Quebec, the failings of Canadian health care, honor killings in North America, Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, and the Armenian genocide.
The organization's biggest impact came last January, when Litwin planned a screening of Iranium, about Iran's nuclear program. The Iranian embassy complained, and the Library & Archives canceled the screening. “I complained to the Minister of National Heritage and he got the film back on. Then the next day, there were threats at the Archives and the film was canceled again.” The cancellation made big news, and when the screening finally went ahead in February, the Library & Archives spent $15,000 on security. “The Canadian government even sent a diplomatic note to Iran about the affair.”
Ottawa is far from the only city in North America where worthy but politically incorrect films stand little or no chance of being screened, whether in ordinary cinemas or art houses. The story of FTFS shows how one determined person can change that, exposing his fellow citizens to vital ideas and information of which they might otherwise remain unaware. What a boon for North American democracy if every major city on the continent had its own FTFS.