Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle was a program launched by the National Film Board of Canada in the late sixties that facilitated the production of around 200 social documentaries known for their inclusion of subjects in the production process and their uncompromising critiques of government programs. In 2010 I co-edited a book on CFC/SN with Tom Waugh and Michael Brendan Baker (check out more on this great collection here) and it seems those three years of hard work producing that door-stopper are still turning up new offers to talk about the program.
The newest talk will take place on Saturday, March 14th in Toronto, where I will discuss alternative exhibition/distribution models as they relate to social justice documentary work. At the event, which is entitled Challenge for Change and a New Society, I’ll be joined by some stellar scholars (many of whom also contributed to the book) and I’m honoured to be invited. Here’s a link to the social media event page.
A couple of weeks ago I had the honour and privilege to be invited as a guest to a book launch in Toronto for a yearly anthology published by Tightrope Books called Best Canadian Essays. My POV Magazine essay, Upping the Anti: Documentary, Capitalism and Liberal Consensus in an Age of Austerity was selected by the series editor, Christopher Doda and this year’s guest co-edtior Natalie Zina Walschots. It is such a huge thrill to be selected among the hundreds of articles these editors read throughout the year—from over 60 magazines and journals in Canada—and to be anthologized alongside some incredible writing talent.
A few of us read at the event, which was held in a Toronto pub, and I was reminded of how much I miss the literary scene from Vancouver, a city I lived in before coming to Montreal in 2003. My old writerly fires were stoked as I chatted with fiction writers who spoke of their characters like they were their neighbours or roommates. The force of imagination and vitality of creative spirit really sunk in on that night, and has inspired me to keep writing, to venture into fiction, and to always hone my skills by reading words put down by authors much more talented than I likely will ever be.
And it’s a nice looking book! You can read my essay online here, or purchase the anthology here.
I’ve watched over 50 documentaries in the last two weeks (and many more over 14 years of programming), and here’s what I’m thinking:*
The first point is so crucial that I’d like to just put it up front and center, then get on with the lesser evils of contemporary documentary filmmaking: If white people, who are usually or always cis-gendered males, are featured in your film as the only subjects, protagonists or voices of authority, then you have either made a film about a small remote sect in some distant corner of the world where only white people live or you have failed Representation 101. Have you been told there are no women geologists who are working on the issue you’re highlighting? Look a little harder – guaranteed there are women who can speak to the issue. No people of colour (POC) in your purview? Then step out a little further – they’re there. And now, on to my rant list.
1) I’m altogether done with pretty images observational filmmaking – it’s great for mainstream festivals and yes that light refraction is splendid, and at this point we all understand that the equipment is sooooo nice that’s irresistible, but how about some perspective/POV? Which brings me to point number two…
2) Making a film about injustice? What are the root causes and what are the names of the people/companies who work the levers perpetuating those root causes? If I’m still asking that when the credits roll, then your film is of little use to me and the scores of activists who want to use your film as a platform for radical progressive change. Yes we can all Google the issue and find out the name of the mining/oil/gas company sowing destruction and misery and yes some of us probably know it’s got to do with colonialism/capitalism/racism/sexism, but why didn’t you say so?
From left to right, at the Cinema Politica book launch: Svetla Turnin, John Greyson, Thomas Waugh and Ezra Winton.
High up on the eleventh floor of Concordia’s EV (Engineering and Visual Arts) building in downtown Montreal 150 or so people gathered as a sun set reflected in orange hues across a range of high-rise buildings. In our own way we had organized an event that embodied the intriguing marriage of art and engineering, mostly expressed in the presentation by the unstoppable, insanely inspiring and altogether heroic human John Greyson (who in one part spoke of using GPS tracking devices to outline portraits of former fellow inmates by running through Toronto neighbourhoods).
We were gathered to hear John talk about his time in a Cairo prison and about art and solidarity and resistance, and expanding the narrative past himself and other “exceptional” news stories. We were also gathered to celebrate Cinema Politica’s tenth year of existence, not an easy feat in a climate where documentary funding and dissemination venues and windows seem to be closing at an alarming rate (and don’t get me started about our own funding struggles!). We were, lastly, also gathered to witness the launch of the first-ever Cinema Politica book, Screening Truth to Power: A Reader on Documentary Activism.
It was a magical, monumental and unforgettable moment in time.