LO­CAL FILM­MAKER EM­BARKS ON A NEW CHAL­LENGE

From hu­man rights to doc­u­men­tary to pol­i­tics, Ford is a force to reckon with

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - LI­CIA COR­BELLA Li­cia Cor­bella is a Post­media colum­nist. lcor­bella@post­media.com

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.

LEAH HEN­NEL

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.

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