Friday, February 3, 2012

Foundation takes conciliatory approach to critical film

Last week Windsorites could see a preview of the film Pink Ribbons, Inc. by acclaimed Quebec director Léa Pool. (The film opens across Canada today but alas not here.) It was put on by the CAW and a national women’s health environmental network. The film’s screening was tied into an occupational workshop discussing the links between workplace carcinogens and breast cancer. I first wrote about it last year (Sept. 13 post) but still have not seen it. Yet I’ve read quite a bit of press material from the National Film Board (NFB), its producer, at least one review (which suggested an anti-corporate bias), the trailer and interviews with Pool and producer Ravida Din.....The Pink Ribbons campaign of course is pretty much ubiquitous in October. You almost can’t go into a store without seeing special pink ribbon products, a portion of the price going to fight breast cancer. But this campaign has much clout. Niagara Falls has been lit in pink, so has the Empire State Building and even NFL football players, of all people, wear pink. I’ve never encountered a charity with so much power.....Why is that? One hunch is that women, as advertising research has well documented, tend to be the chief spenders. So if you can tie in a campaign to consumerism companies can make a whole lot of money while wearing halos. I’m not sure if this was the genesis of the film. But Pink Ribbons, Inc. spends a lot of its time linking corporate greed or exploitation to a serious health issue. “It’s about like our disease is being used for people to profit,” says one woman. It singles out companies that are major pink ribbons supporters yet sell products that are carcinogenic. Noted feminist Barbara Ehrenreich says, “We used to march in the streets now you’re supposed to walk for a cure.” She says “the effect” has been to “deflect” women’s “militancy.” This might all be cant. But the film asks why, if there is so much spending on breast cancer research, there has been essentially no reduction in breast cancer deaths. 59,000 still die a year in North America. Director Pool says there has been “not so much progress.” And critics blame the campaign for dealing with the issue in isolation and not asking what causes cancer, such as whether the source is environmental.....I was curious as to the reaction of pink ribbon campaign officials to the film. So I contacted the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Here’s what Sandra Palmaro, CEO Ontario, has to say. “The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation welcomes a dialogue on breast cancer charities and breast cancer research.  Over the last 25 years, the knowledge that has been gained by CBCF-funded research has had tremendous impact on women’s lives.  Not only are we starting to better understand how to reduce breast cancer risk, we can detect it earlier, we can diagnose it more accurately, we can treat it more effectively, and we can improve the quality of life for those who have been affected.  But with one in nine women still being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, there is still a lot more to be done and, together, with our committed, passionate community, we will continue to be a part of that progress until we reach our vision of a future without breast cancer”.....Moreover, here’s what Nathalie Le Prohon, chairperson of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, said in part in an op-ed piece in the Montreal Gazette. “First of all, breast cancer research has paid off. Thanks to the many investments in research by organizations such as ours, the survival rate increased from 71 per cent in 1974 to 88 per cent in 2008. But in spite of this improvement, too many women still die from this disease. It is essential to maintain our investment in research in order to continue increasing survival rates. Moreover, 40 per cent of the money for research comes from non-profit organizations such as ours. Still, the film eloquently demonstrates that we must focus more closely on understanding the causes of breast cancer, which unfortunately are still unknown. To this end, we are proud to say that of the $8.1 million we donated to research projects last fall, 21 per cent of the grant money is to be spent on research into the causes of this cancer.....Obviously the fundraising establishment doesn’t want to get into a fight with its critics and is taking a non-confrontational approach. But whether the film will make any impact with them is the big question.


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