LOCAL FILMMAKER EMBARKS ON A NEW CHALLENGE
From human rights to documentary to politics, Ford is a force to reckon with
Every once in a while I meet someone who so impresses me, I want to tell the world.
That happened to me this week upon meeting Caylan Ford.
It was Louis B. Hobson, Postmedia’s local film and theatre critic, who suggested I meet Ford to consider writing a profile on her after he was wowed by a documentary she co-wrote and co-produced with acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee.
The film, Letter from Masanjia, relays the harrowing story of Sun Yi, a soft-spoken but incredibly brave Chinese dissident who was imprisoned and tortured in a notorious re-education labour camp for almost three years for following the spiritual practice of Falun Gong, which is outlawed in China.
Lee had to remotely direct the movie through encrypted messages with Yi and much of the filming had to be done surreptitiously, often with just an iPhone or a dashcam.
Ford, a fourth-generation Calgarian, has done so much in her 32 years it will be impossible to cover here.
In short, after obtaining a history degree from the University of Calgary, with a specialty in Chinese history, Ford moved to Washington, D.C., where she earned a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University.
In 2012, Ford began working as a senior policy adviser with Global Affairs Canada, where she has served on delegations to the United Nations in Geneva and the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and has managed diverse files including innovation, internet governance, and nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and has testified as an expert on China before a committee of the U.S. Congress.
Ford has also run a business development consultancy and worked as a think-tank research fellow in Washington and has had some of her work published in the Washington Post.
More recently, she and her husband Jared — a filmmaker and former travel producer for National Geographic — spent their summers in Oxford, England, where Ford graduated with distinction with a master’s degree in international human rights law.
She managed to do all this and start a family — raising daughters Everen, 3, and five-month-old Anora alongside her husband. Did I mention she’s only 32? And now Ford is embarking on a new challenge as she’s running for the United Conservative Party nomination in CalgaryMountain View — doing her door-knocking sometimes with Anora strapped to her front. Why is she choosing politics? “I love public policy and I love people,” she says, simply.
“When I was in the federal government I was on the civil service side and you recognize in that role that the real decisionmaking power is held at the political level and you see the difference between having political leaders who are capable and have a sound vision of what they want to accomplish and those who don’t. So that drives home the importance of having really good people stepping forward to run for office.”
Ford recognizes that “most normal, sane people wouldn’t do it,” she says with a chuckle.
“What kind of person wants to run for office, where everything that they say and do is scrutinized in the worst possible way?” she says. “There are so many assumptions of bad faith.
“To have your views wilfully misstated and misconstrued, it would be infuriating but then if good, normal, decent people don’t step forward then you are just ceding that ground to those who seek power for its own sake,” she explained.
“We can’t let the trolls win,” pipes in Jared, 38, with a laugh.
Jared says he has decided to spend the next while as the primary stay-at-home parent because “Caylan is so extraordinary, I feel fortunate to be able to provide support so she can run and the world can get to know her.”
At that, Caylan blushes, and then jokes, “I paid Jared to say that!”
However, after working so many years with persecuted human rights activists from China, Ford acknowledges that the sacrifices Canadians make to be politically active, while significant, are small by comparison with what so many people around the world must endure to fight for truth, dignity and freedom.
Indeed, Sun Yi, risked his very life by writing SOS letters — not unlike messages in a bottle — that he snuck into boxes of Halloween decorations that he spent 16 hours a day making at China’s labour prison, Masanjia.
One of those letters was found by a suburban mom from Oregon, and after it was published in the Oregonian newspaper, went viral around the world and reforms followed in China.
The film, which was awarded the Best Canadian Documentary Feature (audience award) at the Calgary International Film Festival as well as many other international awards, returns to Calgary for a two-week theatrical run at the Globe Cinema downtown, beginning Oct. 19.
Ford says because of her resume some people wonder if she’s a secret leftist sent in to spy on the UCP.
But no. “Conservatives recognize that our society is actually incredibly fragile, that our freedoms, our security, having a tolerant, pluralistic society, these are things that are incredibly hard-won and you can’t take it for granted.”
She also says during her time in Ottawa, she repeatedly heard from civil servants, that Jason Kenney is “the most competent, principled, best leader they ever worked for.”
But it’s the courage she has witnessed from persecuted people around the world that has motivated Ford most.
“In writing his letters, and in making this film, Sun Yi knew what he was risking. Better than anyone, he understood the pain and the loss that awaited him if he was caught. But he also knew that some things are worth sacrificing for: above all, truth, freedom, and the ability to live with integrity.”
Whether she wins the UCP nomination for Calgary-Mountain View or not, Ford is someone I hope the world gets to know better.
Caylan Ford says the courage she has witnessed from persecuted people around the world has motivated her to try her hand at politics and she is running for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View.