Screening ‘Over My Dead Body’

David St-Pierre, Choreographer

David St-Pierre, Choreographer

I recently saw a documentary which I consider to be one of the best I’ve ever seen, OVER MY DEAD BODY (trailer). It follows renowned Quebec choreographer Dave St. Pierre during the several year period when he waits for a lung transplant – the only way to save his life from cystic fibrosis. The filmmaker is St. Pierre’s friend and creative partner Brigitte Poupart, and this is her first film.

Brigitte Poupart, Actress, Dancer, Filmmaker

Brigitte Poupart, Actress, Dancer & Filmmaker

Several things make this film exceptional. St. Pierre is totally vulnerable.  We follow him through the trials and tribulations of the high-risk operation, several times cancelled as the deadline for survival by surgery draws nearer.  Poupart’s commentary is personal, intimate and honest. Her creative vision is remarkably layered and textured, drawing on footage of St. Pierre’s work as well as his health predicament. One has the impression Poupart is a seasoned documentarian who has developed a visual signature over a period of a few decades. But no – she is a performance artist, involved in theatre and dance shows. To top it all off, this film was made on a very small budget, with the support mainly of the Quebec Arts Council and an artist’s centre called PRIM.

Ten years ago I ran a series of screenings called the Lundis du Doc/Docu-Mondays. It was in collaboration with the Quebec Director’s Association (ARRQ), the French program of the NFB and the Rencontres du Documentaire. It was a lot of work, and I stopped doing it in 2005 at the same time as I started this blog. Now, a group of filmmaker friends want to pick up where I left off. My health doesn’t allow me to continue, but I wish them the best of luck. They gave me a carte blanche for the first evening, that’s why we’ll be screening Poupart’s film. For those of you who live in Montreal, it’s at the ARRQ, MONDAY AUG 6TH, 19 HRS, 5154 ST.HUBERT.

Thank you to Sally Rylett for help with this blog post.

Jacques Leduc and Memories of a Different Era

Jacques Leduc

Jacques Leduc

This past weekend I went to some screenings at the annual Rendez-vous du cinéma québecois and caught up with some documentaries I missed last year. The RVCQ offers a dazzling combination of riches: fiction and docs, animation and multi-media experiences, screenings, workshops, panels and round tables. My friend and constant co-worker Martin Duckworth was impressed by a workshop with Montreal filmmaker Jacques Leduc.

Jacques Leduc began working as a cinematographer and director in 1965. His debut as a director was with the short Documentary Chantal en vrac (1965). Leduc followed this with his first feature fiction film two years later, Nominigue… depuis qu’il existe (1967) and then his first feature documentary film Cap d’espoir (1969). For the next two decades in the 70’s and 80’s, Jacques Leduc continued to work films with the NFB. During this time he collaborated on the NFB film Chronique de la vie quotidienne(1978), a series of 8 films. These varied in length from 10 to 82 minutes, in a cinema vérité style of observing the lives of ordinary people. He left in 1990 to become a freelance filmmaker, soon making the film La vie fantôme (1992) that won the Best Canadian Film at the Montreal World Film Festival. Since then he has been collaborating with other filmmakers both as a director and a cinematographer.

Here is what Martin has to say about the workshop:

Rendez-vous with Jacques Leduc was an hour of nostalgia for the end of a golden era (late seventies) when it was possible to get a film programmed at l’ONF with a proposal of a page and a half, and then take a year to make it. A time when there was a collective conscience among Quebec film-makers of a culture to celebrate. A time when the candid-camera style that started with Lonely Boy had reached its peak in the films of Gilles Groulx and Pierre Perrault, leaving room for blending it in with some of the more controlled “cinematic” style then being introduced in Quebec features–dollies, cranes, long takes. A time when documentary film crews could easily blend with crowds, free of the fear and suspicion that has tied documentary crews these days to the laborious task of getting people to sign release forms. The collectively signed films that were shown prior to the discussion (“Chronique de la vie quotidienne”) were born in the tavern where Film Board personnel went for lunch. Jacques Leduc coordinated ideas, crews, locations and editing, and was grateful for the support given by producer Jacques Bobet to a production without a script or completion schedule. One of our most original directors, Robert Morin (Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur (1992),Quiconque meurt, meurt a douleur (1997), Operation Cobra (2001)), credited the series with inspiring him to start up a video cooperative which has been important to many Quebec filmmakers. Fiction director Louis Bélanger (Nightlight (2003), The Timekeeper (2007), Route 132 (2010)) talked of how moved he was by the respect that Leduc obviously had for his characters. And DOP Pierre Letarte who worked for many years at the NFB stressed that it was not the equipment or the shooting style that gave the series its humane quality, but the close relationships that the crew established with the characters.
Robert Morin

Rober Morin

Louis Belanger

Louis Bélanger

Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 at Cinema Politica

Black Power Mix Tape
Angela Davis interviewed by Swedish Television. ( SVT)

Last week I went to another excellent screening at Cinema Politica’s home base at Concordia University, now only one of their 75 chapters on campuses across this continent and in Europe. I saw a terrific film, The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-75 which screened last year at Sundance and Hot Docs. And I had a different experience from all the other 600 people in the audience.

The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 is made with archives from Swedish Television’s reports from the United States from 1967 to 1975. At the time, Sweden was a very progressive country. The Social Democrats were in power, Olof Palme was prime minister. Sweden officially opposed the war in Vietnam and supported justice for the Palestinians. Swedish television’s reporting from the U.S. was focused on poverty, the movement against the war and the emergence of the Black Power movement – to such an extent that U.S. some U.S. media spokesmen denounced the coverage as ‘anti-american.’ The reporters investigated the Black Power movement, obtaining behind-the-scenes footage with larger-than-life characters like Elridge Cleaver and Angela Davis, as well as rare footage of internal activities in the movement.

For the fist three years that these stories were broadcast, I was living in Stockholm. I was active in the mobilisations against the Vietnam war and generally involved with the student movement. Seeing the footage and hearing the voices of the Swedish reporters the other night was like a time travel experience for me, rediscovering something I experienced 45 years ago. The names of the journalists wouldn’t mean anything to people outside Sweden, but to me they were household items.

The filmmaker, Hugo Göran Olsson, made a very interesting choice – which justifies the ‘mixtape’ part of the title. He asked some current-day hip hop artists and song writers and a few other cultural activists to comment on the footage, the Black Power experience and its relevance to black people and others in the U.S. today. You don’t see them, you only hear their voices. The choice of interviewees was not obvious – he could have asked university professors or journalists – but it adds a very interesting layer to the film, bringing it up to date in a socially critical way while letting the archives remain the main attraction. Excellent !

Thank you to Sally Rylett for helping with this blog.


I Love Docs
Former judge Andrée Ruffo speaks out for docs.

A recent Vancouver Sun article sums up the crisis of the long-form documentary in Canada. Cutbacks everywhere, shrinking budgets and most of all diminishing broadcast windows. Outside of the National Film Board and the arts councils, the whole Canadian funding system is based on acquiring a broadcast license. That’s the key which opens the door to other funding agencies. As networks turn increasingly to entertainment-oriented, cheap-to-produce ‘reality shows’, there is less space and less money for the kinds of docs that investigate and question the real world instead of inventing hokey competitions and survival challenges.

A March 2011 report from the Documentary Organization of Canada examined these trends, showing there had been a six-year decline in doc funding. The situation is worse in English Canada than in Quebec, because this province actually has a cultural policy, a real film culture and some invaluable institutional support notably from SODEC. In addition to the public broadcasters the Astral-owned ‘Canal D’ puts serious money into a handful of long-form documentaries every year.

Nonetheless, the most creative response to the crisis has come from Montreal. A small group of filmmakers, calling themselves ‘Documentary’s G7’, some of them members of DOC’s Quebec chapter, have created a campaign called ‘J’aime le Documentaire’ – I love docs. In addition to using social media for networking, they have made a series of ten public service messages for use on television, during festivals and on the web. These ‘spots’ – quite elegantly made in black-and-white by experienced ad director Richard Leclerc on a minimal budget – feature well-known Quebecers who state their heartfelt support for documentaries. Drawn from a wide spectrum, they include among others singer Chloë Saint-Marie, human rights lawyer Julius Grey, and – cleverly – politicians or former politicians from every major political camp in Quebec. ‘They may disagree on everything else’ says G7 member Patricio Henriquez, ‘but they all agree documentaries have a key role to play in the way we perceive social and political developments and issues. This shows that documentaries can have a unifying effect in society, at least here in Quebec.’ In addition, people who were attending the Rencontres doc fest last November were invited to state their support for the form, resulting in another slew of passionate statements for use on the web.

The ‘I love documentary’ campaign is supported by a series of industry organizations and networks as well as Canal D which has been broadcasting the spots since before Christmas. The ads will also be shown before some films (fiction and documentary) at the upcoming Rendez-vous du cinema québecois.

Thanks to Sally Rylett for help with this blog post.

Terrific films at the Rencontres (RIDM)

Position Among the Stars

The Rencontres Internationales du documentaire de Montréal just ended. It was an opportunity to see many truly excellent films. Sad to think that most of them will not be available to audiences here now that the festival is over. Judging from what I heard from friends and colleagues, I missed many of the best ones. But here are some I found excellent.

The most inspiring film to me was Position among the Stars, by Leonard Retel Helmrich. The third film in a trilogy dealing with the life of a poor family in Indonesia, it is spectacularly shot. Retel is now famous for his ingenious and inexpensive accessories allowing for striking and revealing camera movements, capturing life in surprising ways. There are some close-up shots of cockroaches observing the humans which are priceless! But he is also a great storyteller. And I was most impressed by his ability to maintain a coherent story line and dialogues along with the spectacular images.

Another truly captivating and disturbing film was the beautifully made The Tiniest Place, by Tatiana Huezo. It tells the story of one village in El Salvador which was practically erased from the map by the army during the civil war in that country some 20 years ago, at a high cost in human life. Now the survivors have returned and rebuilt the village. But their memories of the brutal repression are terrifying. One of the strongest scenes is from a dark, wet cave where dozens of people hid for a couple of years with their children – until the were found and dragged out. One of the few survivors tells the story. This film got a special jury mention.

Inside Lara Roxx

Among the Canadian and Quebec films I saw, I particularly liked Inside Lara Roxx, a harrowing story of a young woman from Quebec who goes to Los Angeles to perform in porn movies – and becomes infected with the AIDS virus after just a couple of weeks. The film provides a revealing view of that industry, but most of all it’s an emotional journey through stages of despair and hope, with a very touching main character. Another film from the excellent Eyesteel Films production company.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with the blog.

Controversy in Montreal after Wiseman’s ‘Crazy Horse’ opens RIDM

Crazy Horse - F. Wiseman Paris

The Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal opened last Wednesday night. This is an event which allows you to see great documentaries from around the world, films which you rarely see on TV. This year’s program is great.

But the choice of opening film has created a huge controversy in the documentary community here. Veteran U.S. documentarian Frederick Wiseman has made a career of observing the life of institutions, from the mental asylum to the boxing club. In his new film Crazy Horse, Wiseman documents the preparation and execution of a show at the eponymous nude dance palace in Paris. There are some revealing and interesting moments from the behind-the-scenes creative process. The choreographer, the set designer and the costume designer are captivating an complex characters, and we get to know them.

But this more-than-two-hour film is mostly made up of interminable scenes of erotic dancing, beautifully lit and filmed, but repetitive and soon boring. (The photos show here – graciously supplied by the festival – emphasize the aesthetic, but actually a lot of the film is made up of very tight shots.) One could argue that the film shows up the sexism of the milieu, where the ‘physical assets’ of the dancers count more than anything else. But rather than taking a critical look at this state of affairs, Weisman becomes complicit with it by exploiting these same ‘assets’ endlessly.

Antoine Poupel - Crazy_Horse AntoinePoupel - Crazy Horse

And where the film really falls down is that you never get to know the dancers. After two hours, you know next to nothing about their backgrounds, their aspirations, their opinions, their feelings. Disappointing!

You have to assume some people liked the film. But others left the screening while in process. Others were bored. And some were outraged. A letter of protest was signed by some twenty producers and directors, myself included. The RIDM leadership has agreed to a meeting to discuss the issues after the festival is over.

In the debate which has raged since opening night, red herrings have proliferated. Some people have denounced the Wiseman film as pornography, which it obviously isn’t. On the other side, some people claimed the critics want to censor the film – just a way of avoiding the real issues, as no one has suggested the film should be banned. Others again have defended this choice of opening film saying it was perfect because it generated a debate. Unfortunately this is not the way it was presented – the choice was explained as an attempt to reach out to new audiences – and there was no room for discussion after the screening.

The question I ask myself at this point is whether this controversy will be a useful one which leads to a better understanding of some of the issues, or whether it will just be divisive.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

Dix fois Dix de Jennifer Alleyn

Danseuse - Otto Dix

J’ai toujours été fasciné par la peinture et la musique de la République de Weimar, la période d’entre les deux guerres mondiales en Allemagne. Mon amie Jennifer Alleyn a un film sur un des artistes le plus représentatifs de cette période, Otto Dix, et le film prend l’affiche cette semaine à Montréal et à Québec. C’est un film en dix tableaus, d’où le titre Dix fois Dix.

Jennifer est la fille du peintre Edmund Alleyn sur lequel elle a fait un excellent film, ‘L’Atelier de mon père’. Après la sortie de ce film, l’histoire d’un tableau de Dix retrouvé à Montréal l’a mis sur la piste de ce nouveau film. Inspiré par Nietszche et par sa propre expérience en tant que soldat dans la première guerre mondiale, et par ce contexte de crise économique et politique qui allait mener à la montée du nazisme, Dix confronte les sujets les plus durs : la guerre, la prostitution.

Jennifer raconte :

Jennifer Alleyn2

Après ‘L’atelier de mon père’, il me fallait un sujet fort. En fait, je me demandais vraiment ce que je pouvais faire après. J’attendais de retrouver la même certitude, un lien très fort au sujet. L’univers d’Otto Dix, en plus de dépeindre des réalités dures et malheureusement criantes d’actualité (la guerre, la prostitution), comportait des aspects de mystère qui m’ont happée complètement. Pour me distraire, je suivais un cours d’histoire de l’art et c’est là que j’ai découvert le Portrait de l’avocat Hugo Simons,1925 d’ Otto Dix, qui est dans la collection du MBAM.

Ce tableau a eu beaucoup d’effet sur moi. Il m’inquiétait et m’envoûtait à la fois. C’est ce sentiment paradoxal, d’horreur et de beauté, de frayeur et d’attrait, qui m’a donné le goût de creuser l’oeuvre.

J’ai alors appris qu’une grande exposition allait se poser à Montréal, au MBAM et me suis dit que si j’obtenais la permission de filmer les tableaux, la création de l’exposition, l’accrochage, j’avais une porte d’entrée dynamique et cinématographique. Puis l’idée de greffer des épisodes de la vie de l’artiste, par des incursions dans ses lieux (maison de famille à Hemmenhoffen, Galerie à Berlin, etc..) ont fait sortir le film des murs du Musée.

FIFA - Peter Duschenes avec le portrait l’avocat Hugo Simons (1925)

L’histoire du Portrait de l’avocat Hugo Simons, 1925, était tellement romanesque, avec ce procès et la fuite de l’avocat juif vers le Canada, la correspondance soutenue sur plus de vingt ans entre l’artiste et l’avocat, m’ont convaincu qu’il y avait, derrière, tout une charge émotionnelle qui enrichissait l’oeuvre. Comme une archéologue, je suis partie à la recherche de ce terreau fertile qui donne aux oeuvres cet aura de mystère, bâti par le temps, les mouvements de l’Histoire, la vie humaine.

Il y avait un certain défi à explorer la trajectoire d’un homme qui a tué (Dix était soldat en 1914 et encore en 1945) et son oeuvre fait état des traumatismes qui l’ont poursuivis toute sa vie. J’ai été attirée par la force, le courage qui émanait de son parcours. Considéré comme un artiste dégénéré par les Nazis, il n’a pourtant jamais cessé de peindre. De dire et de montrer les horreurs dont il avait été témoin.

Dans mes recherches, je suis tombée sur cette phrase de Nietszche : “L’art nous est donné pour nous empêcher de mourir de la vérité”. Sachant que Dix avait été très touché par la philosophie de Nietzsche, cette phrase qui a trotté dans mon esprit pendant un an et guidé mon film. Je crois qu’elle offre une vrai clé pour comprendre l’oeuvre de Dix.

J’avais je crois besoin de me dépayser mentalement, me confronter à un univers plus cru, plus choquant de la peinture.


‘Dix fois Dix – un portrait du peintre allemand Otto Dix’ prend l’affiche du cinéma Beaubien à Montréal et du cinéma Le Clap à Québec avec en avant programme, La vie imaginée de Jacques Monory, un autre film de la réalisatrice Jennifer Alleyn. Du 4 au 10 nov. 2011

” C’est très fort. Rythmé. Inattendu. Profond. Émouvant. Surprenant.” – Nancy Huston

Voir la bande-annonce.

Lauréat du “Prix tremplin pour le monde Artv” – FIFA 2011.

Sélection officielle Pessac (France) – Festival international du Film Francophone en Acadie 2011

The Interrupters at Cinema Politica

Ameena Matthews in "The Interrupters" by Kartemquin Films

The other night I went to see The Interrupters at another full-house Cinema Politica screening at Concordia University in Montreal, with the filmmaker in attendance. Cinema Politica regularly gets hundreds of people out to see socially and politically relevant documentaries – in this case 650 people on a Monday night! Kudos to organizers Ezra Winton and Svetla Turnin.

The Interrupters is a terrific film by veteran filmmaker Steve James. Initiated thanks to an article by Alex Kotlowitz, it tells the story of three ‘violence interrupters’ who intervene in violence-ridden, mainly black neighbourhoods in Chicago – the ones which became a national symbol of urban violence in the U.S. a couple of years ago.

It’s a classical ‘vérité’ film, tracking the main characters in many tense and emotionally raw encounters with both victims and perpetrators. The director is also the DOP, and the film is beautifully shot – and has excellent sound recorded in often difficult situations. James’ views on documentary making and the relationship between filmmaker and subject are very close to my own. For example, he spoke about the impact of the camera on the subjects as being sometimes negative, sometimes positive.

Svetla Turin, Steve James and Ezra Winton

Steve James directed Hoop Dreams, a truly impressive and inspiring film. There was a controversy about Hoop Dreams not being nominated for an Oscar, something it definitely deserved. Hopefully that mistake will be made up for by an Oscar nomination for Interrupters.

At IDFA in Amsterdam Steve was given a carte blanche to show his top list of documentaries, see here.

The Interrupters was produced by a truly excellent company called Kartemquin Films. Last year I met Gordon Quinn, one of the founders. I remember asking him whether he felt that the new digital environment had any negative implications for filmmaking ethics.

Quinn said: ‘It’s true that the context is changing, but I think the underlying sets of responsibilities are still there. You owe ethical consideration to your subject and to the intended viewer, and these things can be in contradiction. We spend months or years with our subjects, and so our concerns for them have to be greater than if we were just parachuted in for an hour, or worse just grabbed something from the net. I do worry that pieces of our films could be used out of context and portray our subjects in a dishonest light.”

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with the blog.

Uncovering the hidden history of the Roma in the Holocaust

Ceija Stojka

Going to the Montreal World Film Festival is a hit-and miss kind of affair. One easily has the impression there is no serious programming effort, it seems like anything goes, and screening some of the films gives you a strong impression nothing would ever be turned down. But there are also some excellent films.

At the most recent edition went to see a couple of documentaries which had interesting subject matter but which seemed unfinished. But I also saw one really excellent doc, A People Uncounted, produced by a team of filmmakers which includes several children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, most of them Jewish, at Urbinder films.

Shot in eleven countries, it tells the horrific story of the Roma – often known as Gypsies – as little-known victims of the nazi death camps. I found it to be a very compelling and very unusual film, sort of a hybrid between an information-heavy current affairs doc and a very sophisticated beautifully shot film. Another peculiarity about this film is that it was made with – anonymous – private money.

One thing about the film really bothered me, as you’ll find out in my second question to the director Aaron Yeger, who had this to say:

About the style and structure of the film, I agree that it is not conventional. The film does have a dramatic story arch with three acts, however the arch doesn’t follow any particular person or event, but rather the experience of an entire people, the Roma. All the various people who appear in the film collectively represent that experience.

With that in mind, the structure is patterned more after a scripted drama than most documentaries, and it somewhat epic in scope. The first act lays out who the Roma are, both in terms of fact and fiction and shows how they are seen and represented. The second act jumps back in time to the Holocaust to explain by way of both the personal and historical/factual how they were murdered in that genocide. The third act takes us back to the recent past and to the present to explain how the present day situation for the Roma, which is rife with persecution, is a reflection of what happened during the Holocaust. The arch rises and falls with the level of drama and nature of the material, rather than the experience of one person or event in particular.

… We wanted to show what happened to the Romani people during the Holocaust, what’s happening to them in present day, the connection between the two, and what this says about humanity and racism in general. And to make matters more complicated, so little is known about the Roma in general audiences that we also needed to show who they are and what they are not.

So in the end it is a very diverse array of content with a lot of people and a lot of places and topics of exploration, but still with the goal of making the experience as cinematic as possible. It’s a film with one foot in education and the other in cinema and popular culture.

Director Aaron Yeger

Magnus: You go out of your way to be inclusive, to make links between the experience of Jews and Roma, to refer to other experiences of discrimination and genocide… and yet there (as far as I remember) not a single reference to the gays who were also targeted for extermination by the nazis and sent to the death camps. Given the extremely thought-through inclusiveness of the whole film, this cannot be an accident. (I did notice the little line in the end credits about people whose story was covered…)

Part of our goal was to make a film that elevates the Roma from a footnote in Holocaust history to a place of dignity. The point of the film was to focus on the Romani experience in the Holocaust and present day. Having said that, it’s impossible to show their experience in the Holocaust without drawing connections to the Jewish experience. This is partly because most people when they hear “Holocaust” think of the Jewish experience, so it’s pertinent to note the similarities in the style of the various acts of genocide and the Nazi rhetoric (such as that many Nazi policy statements referred to the [final solution of the Jewish and Gypsy question/problem] together in the same sentence.

The other reason is that organically, it came up time and time again in our travels and meeting lots of Roma that many of them feel a kinship and solidarity with Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

We also chose to relate the present day civil rights struggles of the Roma to the African-American civil rights movement in the past, for the purpose of hoping to inspire people today to change things for the better. The similarities are startling. Roma in present day Europe often suffer from school segregation, lack of access to jobs and institutionalized racism, as well as openly pejorative rhetoric in the political and media mainstream. They are stereotyped as criminals who are unwilling to work. And they were slaves in the past, emancipated at approximately the same time as African Americans.

I agree that telling the story of the genocide of gays, as well as many other groups is very important, which is why there is that statement at the end of the film. But we didn’t want to make anyone into a footnote in this film. Gays and other groups murdered also deserve the dignity of a film dedicated to their suffering and I would like to see that film made.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with the blog.

Uranium film festival of Brazil

Uranium festival: Uranium 238
"Uranium 238: La bomba sucia del Pentágono"selected as one of the eight best films of the Uranium Film Festival of Rio de Janeiro 2011.

One of my films, Uranium, 1990 (in Canada you can watch it on the NFB website here) was selected to participate in the first international Uranium Film Festival in Brazil, which just ended. (Read a wrapup article here from Environment News Service.)

As Brazil is not known for its uranium or nuclear industry, I found this intriguing. I put some questions to Marcia Gomez de Oliveira, the Director of the Festival, and the director of programming Norbert G. Suchanek.

1. Why a festival of films on uranium?

Marcia Gomes de Oliveira: Because nuclear power plants cannot exist without uranium mining. And that factor is still not known to the general population or society. Also totally unknown to the public here in Brazil and in Latin America are the environmental and social consequences and the negative health effects of uranium mining and other installations of the complex nuclear energy industry. Our film festival wants to change that, wants to “popularize” this important information.

Most of the documentaries and movies about uranium, mining, nuclear energy or the Chernobyl disaster have never been shown in Brazil and were never translated into our language, Portuguese. There is a huge language barrier between the English and Portuguese-speaking world. Our festival is the first step in breaking down that wall. In addition, of course we want to stimulate filmmakers, especially filmmakers from Latin America and from Portuguese-speaking African countries, to produce documentaries and movies on nuclear and radioactive subjects.

Marcia Gomes de Oliveira

And why in Brazil?

Marcia: Because we have nuclear power plants and uranium mines. And, starting with ex-president Lula da Silva, the Brazilian government wants not only to triple the production of Yellow Cake but also in the near future export enriched uranium. That is not all. The government is now constructing a third nuclear power plant, Angra 3, and wants to build up to 40 or 50 new nuclear power plants all over Brazil. Our government wants to transform our country into a globally important nuclear power. The Brazilian people until today have not been aware of this huge nuclear program. And we have to discus it, before it becomes reality, before it is too late.

Why on uranium and not for example hydroelectric dams?

The nuclear or uranium question is as important as the question of hydroelectric dams. The difference is that in Brazil, since the 1980s people already know about the negative effects of the big dams and hydroelectric power plants like Itaipu, Tucurui or Balbina. They are visible. However, the effects of radioactivity, the effects of uranium mining are not yet visible in our society. For that, we are working to spread independent information in form of documentaries about the whole nuclear energy complex and the radioactive risks.

2. For Norbert: You have seen pretty much everything that’s been done on uranium mining and its consequences over the last 30 years (40, right ?)

Norbert: As journalist and activist born in formerly West Germany, I followed the nuclear question for more than 30 years now. In Europe, “uranium mining” was always a forgotten subject because most of the uranium mining happens in other continents. The huge uranium mine of East Germany was also “forgotten” because it was simply a secret behind the Iron Curtain. The huge problems in the uranium mines of Portugal were not questioned outside of Portugal because of the language barrier and because that small country in the edge of Europe was not part of the early European Community. Therefore, for decades uranium mining was not visible to the European public and to most of the people worldwide.

Norbert G. Suchanek

Looking at all of them, what role has documentary played with respect to this issue?

Documentaries have been one of the most important vehicles to bring the uranium case into the public. Like I said, mining was not visible for the people, because it happened in secrecy or in other countries. Until today, the question of Nuclear Energy has been mainly fixed on the question of “Nuclear Waste” from nuclear power plants and nuclear accidents.

Starting with documentaries about uranium mining in Australia, documentaries about the fight of indigenous peoples against mines, people in the industrialized nations are becoming slowly aware that the fuel of Nuclear Power plants do not come from heaven. But will require many more documentaries to inform all of our societies, so that the people and their politicians can make correct and wise decisions in future.

Can you mention a couple of films which stand out ?

First of all your documentary Uranium and this is not because I want to be polite. Your documentary is simply a good piece of work with impressive images and one of the first that explores the consequences of uranium mining in Canada in a profound way.

From the other films that we selected for our festival, I personally like very much the documentary Fight for Country (the story of the Jabiluka Blockade) from Pip Starr, a film director who sadly died far too young. In the year 1998, Pip Starr spent over a year working with the aboriginal Mirrar people opposing a second uranium mine on their land. Finally, thousands of people from all over Australia traveled to the Kakadu National Park to join the Mirrar in their struggle. Produced in 2001, Fight for Country shows that people who stand up against uranium mining are not alone!

The third documentary I want to mention is a new production by film director Klara Sager from Sweden. The location of “Under the surface – Om bergen faller sönder produced in 2010/11 is the Hotagen, a mountain area in the North of Sweden.

Young, well-educated geo-engineers and technicians are hiking through a beautiful landscape in search for uranium, without any feeling, about what will happen to that amazing place of earth if one day uranium mining starts. On the other side, you have normal local people, elderly, who do not want uranium mining nor uranium prospecting happen in their land.

It is interesting to see, that Swedish people who are against uranium mining are not young students or “hippy”-type activists, but normal, elderly people. Under the surface also brings to light another kind of modern generation conflict – technicians and engineers fresh from the university working for international mining companies against elderly local people, grocery shopkeepers, housewives and the indigenous Sami, reindeer herders, with a totally different concept of nature and living.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with the blog.