Real Estate Development Gone Wild

Invasion Construction
Montreal documentary filmmaker Martin Frigon recently released a film called La Grande Invasion (The Great Invasion, produced by Productions Multi-Monde) on a subject which is very close to my heart: the impact of out-of-control real estate development on local communities.My father who was an artist and art school director in Sweden spent a good part of his life fighting for the respect of the character of the landscape and local communities where he lived on the Atlantic coast north of Gothenburg. But I don’t think in his wildest nightmares he could have imagined the kind of development which is now transforming the Laurentians, a beautiful area north of Montreal where I have some land and spend a lot of my time paddling and hiking.

I saw the film at the Parc Cinema, which allowed time for a substantial panel discussion after the screening. As Martin’s film shows, the development of mega-shopping-centres (‘Power Centres’) and giant housing developments is literally ruining local communities,even forcing many local residents to become refugees. I asked Martin a few questions.

Continue reading Real Estate Development Gone Wild

Blog Changing Its Skin

Chutes Montapen

The other day I went to see spring arrive at the Montapen falls north of Joliette, an hour and a half’s drive from Montreal.


Dear subscribers and other readers,

As you may or may not have noticed, with the overwhelming influx of messages which afflicts most of us, my blog has not been active for about six weeks – except for an old post which went out the other day. The immediate reason for this was a nasty malware-infection which has now been cleaned up thanks to my friends and colleagues Kim Gjerstad and Barry Greenwald and our hosting service Web Hosting Canada. However, it was time for the blog to change anyway. I am facing some serious health challenges, and will not be able to write as frequently as I used to. There was a time when I attempted to cover most significant developments in the world of documentary as well as presenting some of my own work, posting every week. From now on, I will write less frequently, and will focus on issues which are very close to my heart, or on people with whom I have a special relationship.

One of my upcoming posts will deal with La grande invasion, (the great invasion) a film about the devastating impact of real estate development gone wild in the Laurentians north of Montreal. Also coming soon, an interview with my dear friend Ali Kazimi about 3D and documentary – he is an authority on the subject and we have been fine-tuning this interview for several months.  And I will have a chance to report on the editing of my own film on the troubled youth of Montreal North.
All the best

Thank you to Sally Rylett for helping with this post.



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.

Dix fois dix, by Jennifer Alleyn

Danseuse - Otto Dix

I’ve always been fascinated by paintings and music from Germany’s inter-war Weimar period. My friend Jennifer Alleyn has created a film on one of the most representative artists of that period, Otto Dix. (View the trailer here.) The film came out earlier this month in Montreal and Quebec City (see original post – in French – here.)

Jennifer is the daughter of painter Edmund Alleyn, the subject of her excellent film, L’Atelier de mon père. In her latest film, Jennifer uses a Dix painting rediscovered in Montreal as a starting point to explore the artist’s work. Inspired by Nietzsche and his experiences as a soldier in the First World War, as well as the economic and political crisis that would lead to the rise of Nazism, Dix did not shy away from depicting harsh realities such as war and prostitution. In Jennifer’s words:

Jennifer Alleyn2

“After L’Atelier de mon père, I was looking for a compelling topic. I really wondered what I could work on next. I wanted to feel the same certainty, the same strong connection with a subject. In the world of Otto Dix, I found difficult realities that are still all-too present, but I also found elements of mystery that completely fascinated me.

“It was during an art history class that I discovered Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons, 1925, which is part of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts collection. The painting had a strong effect on me. I found it at once unsettling and captivating. It was that paradoxical sense of horror and beauty, terror and attraction that made me want to explore further.

“I then found out that the MMFA was planning a major exhibition of Dix’s work. I figured if I got the go-ahead to film the paintings, the preparations for the exhibition and the hanging of his works, it would make for a dynamic and interesting introduction to a film. The project expanded beyond the exhibition when I decided to include episodes from Dix’s life, and visited the family home in Hemmenhoffen and a Berlin gallery.

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

“The story behind the Portrait of Lawyer Hugo Simons, 1925 was like something out of a novel: the Jewish lawyer’s trial and escape to Canada, his regular correspondence for more than 20 years with Otto Dix . . . I felt the work had a strong emotional charge. Like an archaeologist, I headed off in search of the fertile soil that gives works their aura of mystery, the layers of history and human life that are laid down over time.

“It was challenging to trace the path of a man who had killed (Dix was a soldier in 1914 and again in 1945). His work reflects traumatic experiences that were to haunt him for the rest of his life. I was attracted by his strength and courage. Branded a degenerate artist by the Nazis, he never stopped painting or portraying the horrors he’d witnessed. In my research, I came across this phrase by Nietzsche: “Art is given to us to prevent us dying of truth.” I knew that Dix was very fond of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and this phrase kept coming back to me, guiding my film. I believe it’s key to understanding Dix’s work.

“I think I needed to shift my focus, to experience a more raw and shocking type of painting.

ABOUT THE FILM: “It’s very powerful. Rhythmic. Unexpected. Profound. Moving. Surprising.” Nancy Huston

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

A McLaren film for the 21st Century: Philippe Baylaucq’s 3D film ORA

The other day I went to see two exceptional films in 3D at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal. Millions of words have been written already about Wim Wenders’ film about the amazing choreographer Pina Bush, and I don’t have anything to add.

But that film was preceded by another extraordinary dance film, Philippe Baylaucq’s ORA. Shot with infrared cameras which capture only the heat of the bodies, with no light source whatsoever, it creates totally original images of translucent bodies dancing to a score by composer Robert Marcel Lepage. Philippe had chosen this project for his two-year residence in the National Film Board of Canada’s French program. I asked him what motivated this choice.

“The project started with the idea of marking the first century of abstract painting. I re-read Kandinsky and wanted to explore that period of painting and set design (Diaghilev, etc) when the human figure was still present in environments that were becoming increasingly abstract.

Initially I was interested in exploring the relationships between the human figure, dance, colour and space. I wished to work again with my friend and colleague dancer-choreographer José Navas and met up with him before applying to the NBF for one of their two year residencies. I was lucky, I got in and began to read up on my subjects. Soon I became aware of what was being done at the NFB StereoLab where I was blown away by what I saw, by what I was shown by Munro Ferguson. It became clear to me then that my two years spent at the Board would have to lead to a film that could be done there and nowhere else. Hence the 3D.

I had a full year of tests before opting for a world technological first: 3D thermal cinematography.

One does not really tell stories in the linear sense with dance. One does however have to be aware that most film spectators expect a storyline of some kind. I started with the title of one of Paul Gauguin’s most famous paintings: Where do we come from, who are we and where are we going? For optimal formal freedom, I wanted my dancers to evolve in a non-naturalistic setting, giving me the chance to be more audacious with gravity, depth, light, texture, movement.

From then on, I was interested in working in the “Norman McLaren” fashion which is to say that the filmmaker is led to his story-line through the interaction with the tools, materials and technologies that he is exploring. Our work with thermal imagery led us to discover very interesting phenomena that spoke of larger themes such as Darwinian evolutionary theory and classical myths such as Prometheus and Narcissus. Slowly, through the fundamental research with the technologies, a story immerged and eventually a film… It was fascinating.

2. A lot of the comments have been about the striking technical achievement, but the structure of the piece, with the music and choreography, must have been a considerable challenge. How did you work with composer, choreographer, dancers?

Working with me on this kind of subject is a trapeze act without a net. From the start, everyone becomes aware of the exploratory aspect of what we are doing. People are generally stimulated by uncharted ground, it gets them out of their routine and forces everyone to be ingenious, to extend further out and test their talents. Again I was blessed with many many inspired collaborators. I worked with people that also work in the documentary field and this is very important because it signifies that they know what it means to be open to chance and aware of what is there, in the world and not strictly on the pages of a script.

The film was loosely written, but my main collaborator José Navas, his magnificent dancers, my DOP Sebastien Gros, my musician Robert Marcel Lepage, my sound designer Benoît Dame, my editor Alain Baril, and many others, everyone was open to the idea that this piece was going to evolve until the very end of the very last stages of post production.

This requires a lot of patience and a very open minded producer. René Chénier did a remarkable job accompanying me through this open ended process. Despite the cutting edge, high-tech aspect of our novel technology, we tried to keep our feet on the ground and not get swept away by the myriad possibilities that both the camera and postproduction computer input might provide us. We tried to never lose sight of the organic, human aspects of our on screen subjects: the dancers. They are all that we see as they at once both the subjects and the light sources that define the subjects: they carry the light, they are the light.

The film is probably one of the very first films to have ever been shot without a single light source: no fire, no sun, no electricity; only heat, the heat of the body, biological light, the light of living things, the light of life itself.

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.

Rithy Panh

From Rithy Pahn's film Le Papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise

I recently had the opportunity to hear the French-educated Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh speak at the Cinemathèque Québecoise. The occasion was a retrospective of his very impressive work.

I first saw one of his films in 2000, when we both had films in competition at the Cinéma du Réel festival at Beaubourg in Paris. His film The Land of Wandering Souls, about the laying of optical cables through Cambodia, featured the encounter beteen modern globalized technology and medieval working conditions. It very deservedly took home the main award.

Unlike his own parents who died of starvation in a camp, Panh is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide of the early ‘70’s. His entire oeuvre is marked by varying degrees of sadness and despair about the human condition.

Rithy Panh

The same goes for his own discourse: he speaks of ‘un travail de mémoire’ – not a duty to remember, but a choice – one could choose to forget. It’s just work to be done, if you choose to do it. He speaks as if there was nowhere to hide and no use pretending.

The filmmaker also needs to face up to his dilemmas: there is an obvious risk of voyeurism, of taking advantage of people. Like every other activity, it’s fragile and perilous.

This time I was particularly struck by Panh’s 2007 film Le Papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise, about a group of young female prostitutes who share a house in Phnom Penh. The film is unbelievably sad, as the young women grapple with illness, unwanted pregnancies, violence and poverty.

The aesthetics of the film are striking: it’s all shot ‘verite’ in the sense that Panh just observes and captures moments of their life. But at the same time every image is carefully crafted, with just the right angle and framing.

How did he achieve this? I wondered. He explained that it was all a matter of patience. Being there for many months, shooting the same kinds of scenes many times over, and carefully selecting just the right shots – out of 300 hours of rushes – in the editing.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

Nitoslawski doc on ‘accomodement’ sign of the times

'Liberté égalité accommodements' film

My friend Stefan Nitoslawski recently launched a film Liberty, Equality, Accommodation on a topic which is quite hot both in Quebec and elsewhere: ‘accomodement raisonnable,’ or the measures different bodies in society have to take to ensure peaceful coexistance and mutual respect betwen peoples and communities. Stefan followed the hearings Bouchard-Taylor Commission, co-chaired by the philosopher Charles Taylor, as well as some very interesting characters.

The views of the small-time politicians from Hérouxville are counterposed to those of two strong-minded muslim women. This film – produced by Paul Lapointe – deals with a topic which is covered in the press daily. But no broadcaster showed interest, and Stefan and Paul had to finish it with their own means. A sign of the times? I asked Stefan a few questions.

You have worked with many directors and observed them at work while at the same time making your contribution to the film as a DOP, as well as directing your own films. How is one different from the other?

For me wearing the directors hat or the DPs is very different. As director, I find that I’m juggling with may more aspects of the film. Content and structure are my focus but I also have to think of schedules, crew, relationships with the characters, research, budget, etc. Consequently, I’m thinking in broader terms and of many different aspects of the production. This is a challenge for me, as I find I have to think wide and then focus quickly on a specific task such as how to capture a given scene.

As DP, the focus is on the image and supporting the director and crew in getting the material needed for the film. It’s a more contained function. On this documentary I was often alone with my camera and sometimes I felt I was juggling too much but at others I felt a certain freedom to capture what I felt was important quickly and simply.

Stéphan Nitoslawski

What were the main challenges? (idem)

The main challenge was that the film received no financing. We received some support from rental houses, post production facilities and the ACIC program at the NFB for which I’m very grateful. Nonetheless this put a limit on what we could do in production and in editing and put a huge strain on the producer Paul Lapointe, the editor Carole Alain and myself. This film could not have existed if it were not for their dedicated commitment and belief that this is an essential film to make. It is the only film made about the Bouchard-Taylor Commission which is one of the important stepping stones in our society since the Quiet Revolution.

How do you see the contribution of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission ?

The value of the Commission is that it gave people the opportunity to learn about issues surrounding the notion of reasonable accommodation and express themselves about their identity, be it coming from the perspective of the majority or of the minority. The basic issue was how to find common ground between religious minorities and the secular majority. A potentially explosive subject. The Commission showed that we can tackle very difficult debates expressing what we think while taking time to listen to the other. I believe that this remarkable example of participatory democracy and the maturity of our society.

How did the discussion go after the screening in Quebec City, and what did Quebec Solidaire’s Amir Khadir ( a leftist) and the PQ’s Louise Beaudoin ( a nationalist) have to say ?

The discussion with Amir Khadir and Louise Beaudoin was fascinating. They both underlined the importance of the film in showing that the citizens were concerned and engaged in the debate and yet the government did not followed suit in creating a White Paper on secularism. Both Louise and Amir are on the parliamentary committee for Bill 94 (about ostentatious symbols in the public administration) and both feel that the discussions in this committee are endless and would have benefited from a clearer direction from the National Assembly. Furthermore, Louise Beaudoin said that she felt somewhat reconciled with Bouchard after having seen the film. I felt that was telling.

What have been the main issues in the discussions after the film ?

The discussions after the film were very interesting. On one hand, many of the concerns that were expressed during the commission came up again which signaled to me that these questions are still very much on peoples minds. But I also feel that there is an evolution. People are much more aware of the issues and have a clearer point of view. I also feel that after having seen the film, people recognize that, as a society, we have successfully carried out a challenging debate of which they can be proud of.

For more information on the documentary “Liberté, égalité, accommodements” please visit the Facebook page here.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this 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.