Carl Meadows is a fighter. He fights for minorities and for cultures and for victims of discrimination. And he has no problem, it seems, leading the charge in anything that piques his passions.
So when Meadows made the move to Penticton from downtown Vancouver in 2016, leaving behind years of activism on the coast, there was little doubt he'd get right back into it again in the Okanagan.
And with the Snakebite Film Festival, launched in 2017 and about to kick off its second run on January 31st at Landmark Cinemas, he's been off to a great start.
The festival is his baby. He's the conceiver, the organizer, and the official film selector. So naturally the flicks of the festival focus on opening minds to diversity and inclusivity.
"My husband and I moved here from downtown Vancouver in 2016," he says. "And the funny thing was that my biggest fear - I hadn't ever lived in a small town - was that I was going to a place that has no culture, or did not have a viable art scene. That was terrifying to me."
But Meadows' fear didn't fully materialize. "There's a lot of cultures here. Penticton's got Indigenous, it's got trans, it's got LGBT, it's got South Asians and Greeks. It's wonderful."
However, he says, "There isn't a culture narrative that's really in your face."
So he went to work. "When we first came together in 2017, Mayor Andrew (Jakubeit) and a whole bunch of us, we set the vision statement, which was 'Awakening Culture, Uniting Communities.' Our goal was to highlight the cultures that already exist in Penticton but may not get a lot of press time."
As for the festival's reptilian name, Meadows says, "I thought of Snakebite because I thought about people recoiling when they see a snake, and I realized I want people to recoil here too. I want them to be kind of stepping back when they see these films."
And in September of 2017, as part of the city's very first Arts Rising Festival, Snakebite debuted right alongside it. It did well, and it created a stir –– one of its primary goals.
But he felt it could do better. He felt it could be more impactful and reach more people if it came out from under the Arts Rising umbrella, and if it was moved to a different time of year.
"We decided it needed to be its own thing. And we decided to move it forward from a late summer event to the late winter because there's just so many other things to do in the summer than watch movies." Ultimately, the weekend at the cusp of January and February seemed to make the most sense.
For the 2019 iteration, Meadows and his festival have partnered with the Okanagan School of the Arts. "I called (OSA president) Pat Field, and said 'Hey, I want a partner,' not only because it's good to partner with a charity, but we wanted a partner like that because we really want to showcase the arts."
Also for 2019, Meadows concentrated on choosing films that will connect with the local audience. "We wanted the festival to have some sort of narrative around Penticton. So every film has something that anybody in Penticton can relate to."
Snakebite opens Thursday night at 7 p.m. with two films, a short called "My Name Was January," and a feature called "Drunktown's Finest."
The first is an homage to January Marie Lapuz, a transgendered woman who lived in the lower mainland before her murder in 2012. The second explores the lives of three young Native Americans.
Meadows says both are powerful statements, and calls the latter "one of my favourite films."
"It's three narratives about three different characters. One of them is a transgendered woman who's from a reserve. The second is named Sick Boy, a young fellow with a kid who's trying to find himself and see where he fits, and the third character was adopted to a white Christian family who lied about her Indigenous origins. So she goes on a pilgrimage to find out what happened to her birth parents."
"I think people will stand up for that and go wow, the similarities are so striking. And question what we're doing here in Penticton about stereotypes. It's a beautiful film."
The festival continues Friday night, again at 7 pm., with another short and then the feature "Alaska is a Drag," a look at the life of a drag queen stuck working at an Alaskan fish cannery.
There are two feature showings Saturday, at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The first is "Hello Destroyer," a film that explores violence and the culture of hyper masculinity through the lens of a hockey player. The second, "When the Ocean Met the Sky," sees three estranged bothers explore deep-rooted family secrets while on a wilderness trek.
The event concludes Sunday at 4 p.m. with Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of The Knife), a movie Meadows says is one of the first in the world made exclusively in the Haida language with Indigenous actors.
Apart from the films, Meadows has also arranged for a few surprises. On Saturday, for example, American Sign Language representative Jasmine Watters will interpret both films as they're playing - another nod to inclusivity. And on Friday night, the producer of My Name Was January will be on hand to watch the flick and do a post-show Q&A session.
What's more, anyone who buys a ticket is eligible for a 20-percent food discount 'til February 3 at festival sponsor Bad Tattoo Brewing.
And, if you simply can't afford a ticket - say you're a student or unemployed - Meadows says you're eligible for a freebie pass. It's an honour system though, so do try to be honourable.
If it seems the festival is running along like a well-oiled machine in just its second go-round, that should come as no surprise. As mentioned earlier, Meadows is no stranger to activism's front lines.
"Years ago," he says, "there was a call to action for LGBT refugees around the world. It really started with some pretty provocative stuff going back to 2012, where Iran was hanging gay men and really targeting the LGBT community. And then Russia - Putin passed pretty aggressive legislation before the Socchi games where it was made illegal to display a pride flag."
"And of course Syria. There were two gay Syrian men who needed to get out of Lebanon. And so we got asked by a friend if we could sponsor them."
And that was the beginning of a movement, and now a powerful national charity, called the Foundation of Hope. Meadows founded it, steered it, and was its president until just last year.
And he was front and centre for some of its most lighthearted moments too. Like the time he came up with an idea for a fundraising event where folks would climb the Grouse Grind...wearing stiletto heels.
"The story behind that one is that one of our annual events is called "Strut." And so one year I wanted to do a stiletto Grouse Grind. And the board was, like, 'Wow.' There were so many logistical and legal issues that we decided to do a stiletto walkathon instead."
One other thing. Meadows is no slouch in his day job either. He's the administrator at Penticton Regional Hospital.
In fact, you can see him in action in the pic just below, presiding over a key hospital event earlier this month.
Tickets for the 2019 Snakebite Film Festival are $10 per film or $40 for a pass that gets you into everything. You can buy those tickets online here, or in person at Bad Tattoo Brewing and the Okanagan School of the Arts, and you can feel good knowing that the proceeds benefit both next year's event and the OSA.
In the meantime, go here for more detailed information on the festival's films.
"Just come, have fun, and spread the word," says Meadows. "I think it will be the beginning of many conversations to come."