Pioneering coalition-building: L’Observatoire du documentaire.


Jean-Pierre Gariépy and Manon Barbeau, respectively Executive Director and President of the Observatoire. My photo.

I’d like to tell you about a pioneering coalition-building experience based here in Montreal, one which could serve as an example for the rest of Canada and even internationally.

Since it was founded ten years ago, I have worked with Montreal’s documentary film festival, the Rencontres. Five years ago, the Rencontres took the initiative for the setting up of the Observatoire du documentaire, which was given the ambiguous english name The Documentary Network. It is actually a coalition, a pressure group which brings together all the main forces producing, broadcasting and distributing documentary film. It brings to the table – for monthly meetings – the professional organizations of producers, directors and technicians, the main television networks producing docs, the National Film Board, distributors, and of course the Rencontres. There is no parallel to this anywhere else in the country. Instead of treating each other as opponents, all these forces come together around common goals: favouring and strengthening documentary filmmaking and its role in society.

Having such disparate organizations working together creates a most interesting dynamic. Everyone has to put some water in their wine and make an effort to come to agreement with the others, but that is only half the story. The representatives of the organizations then have to go back to their respective organizations and fight for what has been agreed on, or what is being prepared for the next meeting. This means that the representatives of the producers or directors have to convince their own colleagues – many of whom produce fiction and television series – to defend the interests of documentary. It means that the broadcasters have to deal with the concerns of the documentary community not just as ‘demands’ from the outside, but as common concerns in which they also have a stake. The Observatoire acts to cement the alliance of all the partners and thereby gives them greater force as a lobby group. During this past year, the Observatoire intervened in numerous ways with the CRTC and other government agencies to favour the interests of documentary production.

Although it’s based in Quebec, the Observatoire has several pan-canadian members. It could serve as an inspiration for English Canada, or it could potentially become a truly representative, bilingual, coast-to-coast organization. It is definitely setting an example.

As a director working in both English and French, I am a member of two organizazations: the Associaction des Réalisateurs et Réalisatrices du Québec (ARRQ) and the Documentary Organization of Canada. Both of these are members of l’Observatoire. I used to be on the executive of DOC, when it was called the Canadian Independent Film Caucus, but these days I attend the meetings of the Observatoire as one of the representatives of the ARRQ.

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Magnus Isacsson

As an independent documentary filmmaker I have made some fifteen films dealing with social, political and environmental issues. Previously I was a television and radio producer. I was born in Sweden in 1948, immigrated to Canada in 1970. I live with Jocelyne and our daughter Béthièle in Montreal, and my older daughter Anna lives in Toronto.

One thought on “Pioneering coalition-building: L’Observatoire du documentaire.”

  1. How can I contact Jean Pierre, I met him in the UK in the mid 70’s and would like to renew a friendship.

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