DOXA Documentary Film Festival presents: The Rankin File
In Vancouver, politics are anything but boring. The year is 1986. Expo 86 has just ended and affordability is at the top of everyone’s mind. Harry Rankin, World War II veteran, criminal lawyer, city councillor, and outspoken socialist decides to run for mayor against a young upstart named Gordon Campbell.
More than twenty years later, director Teresa Alfeld unearthed reels of 16mm footage of Harry’s campaign trail to bring us The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical. Combining rich archival footage (originally captured by lawyer-turned-documentary-filmmaker Peter Smilsky) with present-day interviews, Alfeld crafts a wildly entertaining primer on Vancouver civic politics. A cast of local politicians and activists including—former BC premier and Mayor of Vancouver Mike Harcourt; former city councillor and MP Libby Davies; Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson; Union of BC Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and his wife, Joan Phillip, Penticton Indian Band councillor; and Gordon Campbell— describe Harry Rankin’s character and the many controversies that he attracted. Whether he was a chameleon, a hypocrite, or a wanton Machiavellian manipulator, Rankin was also an ally of the powerless, taking on cases and causes that no one else would touch, including the 1972 inquest into the death of Fred Quilt, an Indigenous man who died in police custody in Tsilhqot’in territory.
But what do the results of an election that took place more than thirty years ago, have to do with the current state of Vancouver? Quite a bit, it turns out! The issues that Rankin fought for—affordable housing, equality, and accessibility—have become lightning rods in the city. What elevates Alfeld’s film from a simple biography is the road not taken aspect. Rankin’s mayoral fight came at a pivotal moment for Vancouver, when critical decisions were being undertaken. The values that determined the course of the city’s development hung in the balance, and we all know where things ended up.
With another civic election around the corner (October 20th, 2018), we are excited to open the 2018 DOXA Festival with a film that asks: Who will pick up where Rankin left off? -SC