The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical

The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical




Thursday, May 3, 2018 - 7:00pm
Tuesday, May 8, 2018 - 6:00pm
Saturday, May 12, 2018 - 3:00pm
Screening Sponsor(s)
Teresa Alfeld | 
Canada |
 2018 | 
90 minutes


The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical (PG)

In Vancouver, politics are anything but boring. The year is 1986. Expo 86 has just ended and affordability is at the top of everyone’s mind. Harry Rankin, World War II veteran, criminal lawyer, city councillor, and outspoken socialist decides to run for mayor against a young upstart named Gordon Campbell.

More than twenty years later, director Teresa Alfeld unearthed reels of 16mm footage of Harry’s campaign trail to bring us The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical. Combining rich archival footage (originally captured by lawyer-turned-documentary-filmmaker Peter Smilsky) with present-day interviews, Alfeld crafts a wildly entertaining primer on Vancouver civic politics. A cast of local politicians and activists including—former BC premier and Mayor of Vancouver Mike Harcourt; former city councillor and MP Libby Davies; Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson; Union of BC Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and his wife, Joan Phillip, Penticton Indian Band councillor; and Gordon Campbell— describe Harry Rankin’s character and the many controversies that he attracted. Whether he was a chameleon, a hypocrite, or a wanton Machiavellian manipulator, Rankin was also an ally of the powerless, taking on cases and causes that no one else would touch, including the 1972 inquest into the death of Fred Quilt, an Indigenous man who died in police custody in Tsilhqot’in territory.

But what do the results of an election that took place more than thirty years ago, have to do with the current state of Vancouver? Quite a bit, it turns out! The issues that Rankin fought for—affordable housing, equality, and accessibility—have become lightning rods in the city. What elevates Alfeld’s film from a simple biography is the road not taken aspect. Rankin’s mayoral fight came at a pivotal moment for Vancouver, when critical decisions were being undertaken. The values that determined the course of the city’s development hung in the balance, and we all know where things ended up.

With another civic election around the corner (October 20th, 2018), we are excited to open the 2018 DOXA Festival with a film that asks: Who will pick up where Rankin left off? -SC


Teresa Alfeld

Teresa is a filmmaker based out of Vancouver, BC. She started her production company Savoy Films ( in 2012 to handle both her corporate video work as well as her short film productions. Teresa is a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s Film Program. She began making films in 2002 as a participant of the Summer Visions Film Institute, where she later worked as an instructor. Teresa has freelanced as a producer, videographer, and editor for a number of alternative media production companies and private organizations in Vancouver. Her films have won numerous awards and have played in film festivals across Canada.

Justice Forum Panelist

Peter Smilsky

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Peter Smilsky graduated from law at UBC in 1971. He articled with a one-man, criminal law firm beside the former Vancouver police station at Main and Hastings, across the street from Rankin and Company and above the West Coast Central Club where the ‘East-end Bar’ often had lunch. That’s where he first met Harry. While still a lawyer, Peter attended the then SFU Film Workshop. He left law a few times. The second time was to spend a year at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In B.C.

Justice Forum Panelist

Jean Swanson

Jean Swanson volunteers with the Carnegie Community Action Project working for more and better housing for low income people in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown, and to stop gentrification.  She also works with Raise the Rates on getting higher welfare rates and higher taxes for the rich.  She started working in the DTES in 1974 at the Downtown Eastside Residents Association where she worked  with Harry Rankin to get the Carnegie opened as a community centre, to stop tax buyers, to get a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw passed (that still isn't enforced).  Jean helped found End Legislated Poverty a BC coalition that began in the early 1980's.  She also co-chaired the Coalition Against Free Trade, was president of the National Anti-Poverty Organization and wrote a book:  Poor bashing, the politics of exclusion.  Last year she ran in the Vancouver City byelection on a platform of a mansion tax and a rent freeze, and came in second.