We’ll admit we’re biased, but we love Reel Causes. And we especially love the founder, Mohamed Ehab, for fostering a sense of community amongst activists who are equally passionate about film. We recently interviewed him to learn how it all began.
When and how did Reel Causes get started?
I immigrated to Vancouver from Egypt to work as a pharmacist in July 2008. I was trying to make friends and meet people, as I didn’t know anyone in the city.
I came across meetup.com and thought it could be a good way to meet people. Since I had a lot of passion for cinema, especially arthouse films and documentaries, I decided to start a Meetup group for fans of these genres.
I started by hosting potluck and movie nights in my living room. After a few Meetups, the group grew in popularity and my living room was packed with weekly sold out potluck and movie nights! After almost a year from starting the group, I had close to 800 members and, of course, my living room was not big enough to host everyone. I started to organize Meetups at local cinemas where we could meet to chat about the film and socialize.
One of my goals as a newcomer was to be an active community member who gives back.
Having mentioned that, and as the Meetup group was growing in popularity, I had the idea – why not find a way to take those film gatherings a step further and give back to the community?
The idea was to invite the group members to watch a movie at a theatre, and proceeds from ticket sales would support a local charity. The charity would be invited to present the movie and a Q&A would be organized with the filmmaker after the movie. In other words: the events will use the power of film viewers to support various causes.
After months of working to put all these pieces together in a feasible model, the first event happened and was a big success.
What was the first public event?
Proceeds from that event went to support the Vancouver Food Bank. This event was a big success, with close to 200 people in attendance, especially considering this was the first event for a newly started community group.
With its unique model, Reel Causes grew to become a Vancouver success story. Soon Reel Causes became a registered non-profit with a well-recognized social impact in supporting various local organizations and causes in Vancouver through education and fundraising, using the platform of cinema.
What has been the evolution of the organization?
Reel Causes was just a community group at our first event. Because it was a successful event, I was lucky to meet great individuals who believed in the idea behind Reel Causes and stepped forward to help take Reel Causes to where it is now.
After a few more successful events, Reel Causes became a registered non-profit. I stayed with the organization as a founder, president and then co-president for four years.
During these years, we partnered with close to 30 local organizations, raised nearly $30,000 for various causes, built partnerships with SFU, Vancity Theatre and VIFF, and we were featured in various media outlets across Vancouver. We also had Skype Q&As with many high-profile filmmakers and actors – we even had a Nobel Peace Prize winner participate: Leymah Gbowee.
Among those great individuals who were early founding members (and without whom the organization wouldn’t be where it is) are: Robert Davidson, Meharoona Ghani and Dana Dekoven. Later we were joined by Ian Merkel, Mary McPherson, Lisa Mighton, Jocelyn Chee and Bob Christie (the current President).
All of the above individuals have contributed vastly to lead Reel Causes to where it is now.
What are you doing now?
I live in Victoria with my 20 months old and my wife.
My time with Reel Causes, the people I met, and the friendships I made are wonderful memories that I treasure. With growing personal and family responsibilities, the time came where I had to move on.
As much as I miss working with Reel Causes, it makes me happy to see the important work the current board is doing with every event invitation I receive.
I hope there will be a point in the future where I have the capacity to help Reel Causes again. Until then, I stay in touch with board members I worked with and we have coffee from time to time.