NFB’s Drisdell discusses challenges of “Pink Ribbons” release

The National Film Board of Canada's Deborah Drisdell discusses the challenges of marketing controversial TIFF doc Pink Ribbons Inc. (pictured), which has divided viewers affected by breast cancer.
January 25, 2012

Quebec director Léa Pool chose to be indignant and subtle when she made Pink Ribbons Inc. (pictured), a National Film Board of Canada documentary that aims to debunk a giant breast cancer awareness movement it portrays as being fed by big corporations.

“I felt all this ambiguity myself; it’s not an easy subject,” Pool told realscreen’s sister publication Playback Daily back in September, when her film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Four months later, the NFB is aiming for that very same even-handedness as Pink Ribbons Inc. opens countrywide on more than 30 theatrical screens, beginning February 3. So much so, the public film producer decided to distribute the controversial documentary itself, rather than turn as it often does to a commercial distributor.

“We need to have control, and continue the work that the NFB is doing with communities to get the word out about the release,” Deborah Drisdell, head of NFB accessibility and digital enterprises division, tells Playback. U.S. indie distributor First Run Pictures plans a stateside release of Pink Ribbons Inc., likely in late spring 2012.

But recognizing how some Canadians, including breast cancer survivors, wear pink ribbons proudly, while others despise them as a symbol of corporate exploitation, the NFB is deftly marketing the documentary ahead of its theatrical release here.

“As much as [cancer] is an uncomfortable subject, starting a discussion is something that the NFB does, that is part of the public service value we have,” Drisdell says.

“And we felt that we were in the right place to reach out to Canadians and to fund-raisers, and to people who are fighting cancer, as they are asking the questions of where is this (cancer research) money going and is it going to the right places,” she adds.

The NFB is mostly using social media and community outreach to get word about the theatrical release of Pink Ribbons Inc. out to anyone associated with the breast cancer movement or industry.

The documentary is based on Samantha King’s book of the same name, which investigates how breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause marketing.

And while using a slow-build as a dramatic device to allow audiences into the documentary, Pink Ribbons Inc. ends on a note of militancy over the commercialization and globalization of breast cancer.

“We feel we have to make sure that [the film] does get out, for Canadians to talk about it,” Drisdell says.


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