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LOVE OF FILM SPURS REEL CAUSES’ MOHAMED IHAB
Mohamed Ihab could probably write a book on how to help immigrants adjust to life in Canada. In an interview in the Georgia Straight boardroom, the Cairo-raised pharmacist brings no sorrowful tales about his foreign credentials not being recognized. Instead, he wants to discuss how he formed a network of about 1,400 local film lovers who raise money for charity.
Ihab is the founder of Reel Causes, a nonprofit society that hosts monthly screenings, usually at the Vancity Theatre, with all proceeds going to organizations engaged in good works. “We’re a secular, nonpartisan group,” he says. “In other words, we stay away from politics and religious themes. So it’s mainly health-care issues, social issues, food security, and the environment.”
He developed his passion for movies growing up in Egypt, where he also volunteered with a medical caravan that traveled to poor communities. Ihab explains that he wanted to move away from the Middle East and conducted diligent research before choosing Canada. He periodically visited to take the pharmacists’ licensing exams, and arrived in Vancouver on Canada Day in 2008 with his credentials in order.
“I was ready to work from day zero, and ready to enjoy the experience of living here from the first day,” Ihab says with a smile. “I wanted to be an active member of the community.”
A couple of months later, he used Meetup.com to start a group of people who love foreign and independent films. The first event attracted 10 people to his living room, where they were treated to Egyptian food.
Ihab recalls that as the group grew larger and no longer fit inside his home, they would go to theatres and talk about the movies in local restaurants. Within a year and a half, he says, there were 700 or 800 members.
That’s when he seized on the idea of turning his network into a fundraising organization. “At that time, I was volunteering with a nonprofit group called End the Pain Project,” Ihab states. “They provide therapy for amputees in areas like Vietnam and Cambodia.”
In 2009, they showed a German film called Phantom Pain at the Granville 7 Cinemas, attracting 300 people. From there, he formed the nonprofit Reel Causes nnd has been hosting monthly screenings ever since for numerous charities, including Doctors Without Borders, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Positive Women’s Network, ALS Society of British Columbia, and the Canadian Red Cross.
Often, the group arranges to speak to the filmmakers in person or via Skype. At the 2010 Amnesty International Film Festival, Reel Causes hosted Pray the Devil Back to Hell , which showed how courageous Liberian women helped end a civil war. At this fundraiser for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Reel Causes arranged an interview with the leader of the Liberian women’s group, Leymah Gbowee, who later shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni women’s-rights activist Tawakkol Karman.>
He praises group member Robert Davidson for paying for the rental of the Vancity Theatre for three events, which enabled all the ticket revenue to go to charities. Ihab notes that since then, Vancity Credit Union has stepped up as a sponsor, covering theatre costs for an entire year.
© 2012 Vancouver Free Press
From left: Mohamed Ehab, Meharoona Ghani, Lily Wang, Gabriel Morosan
‘Reel’ film screenings in Vancouver help fund charities
Monthly screenings often include director Q&A’s
Four years ago, Mohamed Ihab started a film club as a way to meet other film buffs after he moved to Vancouver from Egypt. When the club grew to 700 members, he realized its potential to benefit the community.
That led to his founding Reel Causes in 2010, a Vancouver-based non-profit that screens independent films once a month at the Vancity Theatre, and donates all the proceeds to local non-profits.
On Sunday, July 8, it will celebrate its support from the community with a free screening of the film The Adventures of TinTin in Stanley Park.
After more than 20 showings, Reel Causes claims to have raised over $35,000 for 20 different charities that support human rights and social justice, including the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, the Canadian Red Cross and Doctors without Borders.
Reel Causes’ monthly screenings are often followed by question and answer sessions with directors or actors from each film. In 2010, Reel Causes hosted Leymah Gbowee, who appeared in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which chronicled women in the Second Liberian Civil War. She went on to win the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work as a women’s rights activist.
Meharoona Ghani began volunteering for Reel Causes in 2010. By 2011, she became a board member and took on the role of creating a strategic plan for the organization.
“My interest was from there form the beginning because it was about giving back to community,” Ghani said.
Ghani said the organization depends on its loyal volunteers. Both Ehab and Ghani are unpaid, making it a difficult task to keep the organization running.
“The key, especially since we’re 100 per cent volunteer and we all have other jobs, is finding a way to keep us moving forwards, where we’re not losing people and getting people burned out,” Ghani said.
She said Reel Causes wants to expand across Canada, but it has some expansion to do in Vancouver first. For the last few months, all of its shows have sold out in the 190-seat Vancity Theatre. There have been requests for two screenings a month, but Ghani said that with only seven volunteers and limited funding from the Vancity Credit Union, a second showing isn’t feasible yet.
Ihab works full-time as a pharmacist, but makes time to support a cause he is passionate about.
“We dedicate our time and effort with love because we believe in what we do. The power of film and art in raising awareness,” he said.
The July 8 free screening of The Adventures of TinTin in Stanley Park is with the support of the Canadian Parents for French and the Vancity Credit Union. “It’s a way that we can give back to the public who have come out to support all our events,” said Ghani.
Ghani expects the showing to have more than 200 guests. The screening will be at Ceperley Meadow next to the Second Beach outdoor swimming pool at 9 p.m.
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