By Janet Guttsman
TORONTO (Reuters) - Pink ribbons dumb down the grim realities of treating cancer, and hide the profit-focussed core of many high-profile fund-raising events, according to a movie that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this week.
"Pink Ribbons, Inc." takes a detailed look at some of the colourful fundraising events in North America, where women, united in their fight against breast cancer and mostly dressed in pink, cheer their way along scenic routes.
The film questions the priorities of the campaigns and the broad use of the pink-ribbon logo as a fight-breast-cancer addition to products as diverse as T-shirts, toilet tissue and handguns.
"For me, pink ribbons were something very innocent," said Lea Pool, director of the made-in-Canada documentary, which emphasizes the corporate sponsors of many of the events.
"I think it's still not a bad idea, but I was very afraid of all the corporations and how they hijacked the disease and how they made profits out of that, and how there is pink-washing in the process of doing fund-raising."
Showing at the festival weeks before Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as cancer charities have dubbed October, "Pink Ribbons, Inc." pleads with fund-raisers to think about where the money they raise will go, and asks organizers to be more open.
It questions the logic of focussing on cancer treatment rather than prevention, pointing out that pharmaceutical companies stand to gain if more people use their drugs, and urges more research on the environmental factors that may contribute to breast cancer.
Some of the most moving scenes of the 97-minute movie centre on discussions among a group of women with Stage IV breast cancer, when the disease has spread to such an extent that doctors cannot offer the possibility of effective treatment.
"We're living. We're human beings. We're not just a little pink ribbon," said Maricela Ochoa, a member of the group.
Pool and producer Ravida Din, who finished treatment for breast cancer soon before starting work on the movie, said they did not want their film to discourage people from raising money for anti-cancer causes.
But they do hope that people will focus more on what the money would be used for.
"It's not about raising money it's asking the question about where that money is going," said Pool. Coining a phrase from an activist web site, she added: "Think before you pink."
(Reporting and writing by Janet Guttsman; Edited by Sheri Linden and Bob Tourtellotte)