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

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.


Documentary and globalization: favouring understanding

Age of Stupid - Sydney
A still from the documentary "The Age of Stupid", directed by Franny Armstrong

I have just spent two weeks teaching at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington State. More on my course another day, but I also had the opportunity to speak to the students and faculty about Documentary in the Context of Globalization.

I talked about how the new digital technologies have democratized access to audio-visual production and how the web has made it possible to instantaneously distribute videos worldwide. This has opened up a two-way street, making local stories available to the world, and bringing the world (or stories from elsewhere in the world) to audiences just about everywhere.

To illustrate my points, I showed excerpts from three films. Burma VJ is one I wrote about on my blog earlier. The film documents the use of small digital cameras by courageous video journalists – VJ’s – to reveal what goes on inside the Burmese dictatorship. With digital cameras and satellite uploads they distribute images worldwide within hours. Their work made all the difference during the 2007 uprising led by Buddhist monks across the country.

Another example I used was the video of the killing of a young Iranian woman during the 2009 protests in that country. It graphically showed her dying moments, and really touched people emotionally. Thanks to the web and cell phone – Twitter was particularly instrumental – it spread like wildfire, and actually helped change the relationship of forces between the regime and the opposition.

As an example of how the new production and distribution context has allowed people who did not traditionally have access to the resources to express themselves audiovisually, I used the amazing Wapikoni mobile experience, which has been running for six years in Quebec. Young aboriginal people have been given training and access to production facilities, and the result is impressive. Many of their films have been presented at festivals and won awards.

For some filmmakers, the starting point is not local but global. That was the case with the 2009 film The Age of Stupid by Franny Armstrong. The premise, established with much aesthetic panache, is that while the world has gone to ruin, one man (played by Pete Postlethwaite) remains in the Global archive in 2055. His archives reveal the stupidity of the people of our era who knew the world was on the road to perdition but didn’t act – stories set, naturally, in our own time.

Finally, I spoke about the phenomenon of immigrant directors (or children of immigrant families) making films about their home countries in the ‘developing countries’. Having access to the funding mechanisms of the richer countries as well as an intimate knowledge – or at least personal connection – to their country of origin, these talented directors have made some great films. Ali Kazimi’s Narmada – A Valley Rises, Rithy Panh’s films about Cambodia are good examples, but I chose to show an excerpt of Up The Yangtze by Yung Chang (NFB & EyeSteel Films).

There are increasing numbers of excellent films coming out of the countries in the South. As a member of the board of the Alter-Cine Foundation, I am able to see the incredible diversity of projects from Asia, Africa and Latin America looking for funding every year. Just reading the proposals, one gets a sense of the many aspects of reality which are not adequately covered by our television networks.

Conclusion – it sound a little simplistic when summarized, but it’s true: by offering a more in-depth treatment of other realities, documentaries contribute to understanding and awareness between peoples.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

Kevin Mcmahon looks to the future

MEADS: Medium
Concept shot of MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense System), a program that aims to replace Patriot missiles in the United States, the older Hawk system in Germany, and Italy’s Nike Hercules missiles. From

You are probably familiar with the series 7 and Up by British filmmaker Michael Apted, who has been following fourteen individuals since 1964, filming them every seven years. Well, my colleagues Robbie Hart and Luc Côté have done a variation on that idea, with their film Turning 32. Sixteen years ago they released a series of portraits of 16-year-olds in third world countries. Now, their 16-years-later feature-length movie will play at the AMC Cinema in Montreal Starting Sept. 17th. Going to see docs on the big screen is the best way to ensure they continue to be shown!

On the heels of Waterlife flows from one medium to the next, about the relationship between Kevin McMahon’s Waterlife online project and his film, here is another installment of the interview with Kevin, written by my young colleague Tobi Elliott.

Looking forward… as a filmmaker trying to grapple with new forms of storytelling, what excites you or – possibly – depresses you about the possibilities offered by interactive and online documentaries?

Well nothing depresses me about it. In a way, I’ve been waiting for this my whole career. What interests me are environmental questions, questions about the way society works, questions that deal with larger systems. And it’s always been a challenge to deal with those questions in linear format without falling back on really conventional tropes that I don’t think are particularly successful anymore. **

In interactive media, there are still enormous limitations of all kinds, but I think we’re seeing the beginning of something incredibly interesting and exciting. What excites is the possibility of two things: one, creating realistic, virtual environments. The other thing, which Waterlife doesn’t do but which we’ll see more and more in the future, is the possibility of beehive environments that are essentially constructed by the users. Talk to Katerina Cizek about that.

Kevin McMahon

There are two ways you can go: you can construct a large, aesthetic experience, sort of like you do with feature film, or you can construct a beautiful aesthetic experience that is more like a building that users or contributors can come to and build or decorate. Like the NFB’s Highrise, where they’ve built all the ‘girders’ in the building and said, ‘This is what this building can do, but you, the user, are going to contribute this wall, and that user will contribute a window.’ It’s a fascinating experiment. Both those possibilities excite me.

They’re different approaches to basically the same thing, which is to create not just a two-dimensional thing that the viewer passes and looks at, but rather to create an aesthetic the user can move around in. I find that totally fascinating.

What are you working on right now?

We’re working on a big project right now that’s only going to be online, called Planet Zero. The subject is nuclear weapons.

I’ve been working on the subject for thirty years, and have written a book and done two films about it, none of which were satisfactory. I’m hoping that as we’re approaching it again as an online project, that maybe we’ll be able to solve some of the deficiencies of its earlier forms.

As you’re looking at something like nuclear weapons, that’s an enormously complex, physical problem. You’ve got these bombs sitting all over the world. It’s one of those things that are so big and complicated and hidden, that linear media does a really shitty job of being able to penetrate and convey it. Books, which are non-linear, do try, but they aren’t able to bring any emotional content to the subject. Novels do, but technical books have a real struggle…. You’re always tossing and turning, trying to find a voice that can express something that’s complicated and realistic, and do it with passion.

With non-linear media, we’re attempting to create this website – well first of all we’re trying to put the money together to do it – but the idea is to recreate an environment as best as we can, with the resources we’ll have, of a nuclear world. In the first iteration, it’ll be like Waterlife the website, and a construction, like a documentary.

So that’s exciting to me, it’s a new way to approach an old subject in the context where old approaches have not worked very well. Nuclear weapons are something that average folks don’t have much information about, and specialists do. We are trying to think of ways to make it extensible.

** To read more on this perspective, see Kevin’s article, ‘AERIAL PERSPECTIVE: A Window on Reality for the 21st Century’ printed in POV magazine, Spring/Summer 2007 issue, No. 66.

Waterlife flows from one medium to the next

Screen shot 2010-09-03 at 3.18.49 PM

This blog post was written by my young colleague Tobi Elliott, who is helping me with several projects right now.

One of Canada’s recent successes in the interactive documentary universe is, a site based on director Kevin McMahon’s documentary film of the same name. Waterlife the film (Special Jury Prize for a Canadian Feature at Hot Docs 2009) is a moving epic about the Great Lakes and the story of water itself: how it affects every part of our lives, and how it – and we with it – are under assault.

Its own creative endeavor, Waterlife the website is a co-production between Primitive Entertainment and the NFB. It picked up a coveted Webby award last April for Online Film and Video/Documentary, as well as the 2010 SXSW Interactive Activism Award, the BaKaFORUM City of Karlsruhe Prize for Multimedia, and a Canadian New Media Award for Best Cross Platform project in 2009.

Waterlife the website is considered a success, but how do you measure success in the online universe? Is it in page views, critical response, viewer comments, or what?

That is a very difficult question and I don’t really know what the answer is. Waterlife is considered a success probably for two reasons. One, there is a lot of public interest in it, and a lot of visits – about 600,000 visits – since it first went online a year ago.

Back when people like Magnus [Isacsson] and I started in documentary about 20 years ago, a CBC documentary would typically get 500 – 600,000 viewers, no problem. But that’s not true anymore. Although the film Waterlife has also been quite a success – it still screens almost weekly – it will not have reached a cumulative audience anywhere near 600,000. So that’s one measure: how many people come see it.

Another measure is how long they stay. In the case of Waterlife the website, when it first launched the average stay was seven minutes, but many users apparently stay around twenty minutes. To the web folks, this is a mark of success, but it does make you wonder about the quality of the experience vis a vis film.

It’s always difficult to measure, and it’s the same for a film: do you measure by critical success, by the fact that it really moves people and a lot of people go see it? By commercial success? All of these measures are relative and valid.

Kevin McMahon Waterlife

You write about Marshall McLuhen and his view that “the media’s touch is physical, and the feelings they provoke are real.” ** How do you think each medium – interactive media and feature film – feels to the audience? How do they perceive or react emotionally to them?

Broadly speaking, the film is really an entirely emotional experience. Some would say it’s more arty, or more of an intellectual film in some ways, but having been in many audiences, I’ve seen that the way they react to the film is really emotional. It’s a movie – it’s got music and pictures and people, and [the audience] reacts to the emotions it evokes in them.

I would say the website has an emotional component but also an intellectual one. The interesting thing about the web is that it’s engaging both sides of the brain all the time. It’s got pictures and sound, but it also has text. One of the advances in the Waterlife website is it relies much less on text than other websites do, but it still has text. That keeps that linear part of your brain engaged all the time.

Do you think each type of media appeals to different people?

I think they probably appeal to different people, because of the generational aspect, but they also appeal to people in different ways.

How did you combine the different platforms in terms of design, information-sharing, content? How did that work out?

The way they work together is that people who see the film and appreciate it, particularly anyone in an educational context such as teachers, students, are driven to the website by the film. There are two websites, and was set up to link people with activist organizations in their community, like Great Lakes United, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, where they can go to take action. has that, but it’s kind of buried.

The film sends people to the website but I don’t think the website sends people to the film. It’s counterintuitive, the opposite of what we think websites are about. Websites were initially set up and used for film and television as advertising. Like flyers for your film.

But I don’t think that’s how they work, and in Waterlife’s case that’s not how it works at all… partly because the website is accessible to everyone in the world and the film’s available for screenings only in Canada and the U.S. It’s not as available as films in your living room that you can dial up via a website. We also know this because a lot of the feedback on comes from around the world and from places where the film is not showing.

What they share is their aesthetic, and they share a lot in their content. There’s no way of tracking the traffic between them but my sense of it is, there’s not a lot.

We went into this project thinking the website should be an adjunct and that it should drive people to the film. But Rob McLaughlin (Director of digital content and strategy for the NFB English Program), the driving force behind the website, said, “They are two different things. They share assets, there will be some back and forth traffic, but you have to approach it as two different things.” He was completely right and has proven to be over time.

** Refers to Kevin’s article AERIAL PERSPECTIVE: A Window on Reality for the 21st Century,” printed in POV magazine, Spring/Summer 2007 issue, No. 66.)


Part Two of the interview to come: Kevin McMahon looks to the future.

GDP/PIB: A conversation with Hélène Choquette

PIB/GDP: 'Une chance qu'il y a des mots'
Photo credit: Hélène Choquette

This week: following my previous post on the NFB‘s multi-platform project GDP: Measuring the Human Side of the Canadian Economic Crisis, here is an interview with Hélène Choquette, the project’s director and coordinator.

The above image is pulled from the excellent photo essay, Poetic Justice one of Hélène’s own compositions – featuring the young slam poet Marjolaine Beauchamp.

1. What was the most difficult part or challenge of making this project? The bilingual nature, traversing the “solitudes”, working from coast to coast, or something else?

Bringing together a group of documentarians and photographers from one end of the country to the other for a common year-long project was a challenge in itself. We spent a week together in June 2009: I presented the goals of the project and each and every one could share their own creative point of view.

Over and above bilingualism, GDP puts forth universal stories of humanity. When we look at the origin of the movies Quebecquers are viewing, we can see they are not only viewing movies from here, and it is the same thing is all the provinces. The resilience and demands that a human being must confront when faced with crisis situations are surely universal.

We also discovered that web users recognize themselves in the stories of those people who work in sectors or industries similar to theirs, without regard for geographic location. As a result, the fact that the site is bilingual permits us to counter this linguistic divide.

I also want to share with you the qualities of the Web that we’ve since discovered. We have no restrictions of length, or number of episodes, or the pacing of putting them on line. We are simply following the natural rhythm of our stories, which is frankly marvellous.

Hélène Choquette - PIB/GDP
Photo Crédit : Marc-André Grenier

2. I find the quality of the small films or reports very uneven. What do you think? Reasons?

GDP is a pilot project where trial and error have their place. When it’s a question of the creative process, this notion of trial and error is precious. It’s what challenged Fernand Dansereau when he discovered GDP last December. This possibility of playing outside a safe and secure box.

We are asking our directors to be one-man-orchestras. They accomplish all at the same time camerawork, sound recording and obviously, the directing. It’s extremely demanding. They are not all on the same level technically but despite some limitations, all end up delving into the universe of their protagonist.

Of course, some stories are stronger, but all have their relevance. Unequal quality is unfortunately often the lot of these group productions. However, because we’re on the Web, the user has the choice to watch only what interests them.

It’s astonishing to see that the most viewed films and essays are not always the best from a technical point or view, and even in terms of narration. That’s where we have a new gift from the Web. The user chooses what he or she pleases. As a documentarian, I would like to cause them to be interested in one story more than another, but I no longer have that privilege with this virtual audience.

3. There are some photographic essays that are particularly well done, do you agree? Reasons?

The photographic essays had as their first goal to document the impacts of the crisis in the far-flung regions. They are small, unique works, and so are a lot easier to watch as one-offs, while the narrative arc of the films evolved over one year, and take their meaning in time. They are a powerful artistic force.

The web effectively gives a new breath to certain mediums that have preceded it. Photography thus finds a new momentum, and the photographers have a chance to push their creativity more to the fore, and that is wonderful to me.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this post.

PIB/GDP: Une conversation avec Hélène Choquette

PIB/GDP: 'Une chance qu'il y a des mots'

An English version of this blog post will follow shortly, with thanks to Tobi Elliott.

Cette semaine: suite à mon petit texte sur le projet multi-plateforme PIB: L’indice humain de la crise économique canadienne de l’ONF, voici une entrevue avec Hélène Choquette, la réalisatrice-coordinatrice du projet.

L’image ci-dessus est tiré de l’excellent photo-essai “Une chance qu’il y a les mots,” qui a comme sujet la jeune slammeuse Marjolaine Beauchamp. C’est une des composantes du projet PIB que Hélène a réalise elle-même.

1. Quelle a été la plus grande difficulté, le plus grand défi du projet PIB? Faire ça bilingue, à travers les solitudes, “coast to coast”? Ou d’autres choses?

Constituer une équipe de documentaristes et de photographes d’un bout à l’autre du pays autour d’un projet commun pendant un an était un défis en soi. Nous avons passé une semaine ensemble en juin 2009 où je leur ai présenté les bases du projet et où tous et chacun a pu partager son point de vu créatif.

Au-delà du bilinguisme, PIB propose des histoires humaines universelles. Quand on regarde la provenance des visionnages, les Québécois ne regardent pas que les films québécois et ainsi en est-il dans toutes les provinces. La résilience et les autres forces dont un humain doit faire preuve lorsque confronté à des situations de crise sont assurément universelles.

Nous avons également constaté que les internautes se reconnaissent dans les récits de gens qui travaillent dans des secteurs d’activité similaires au leur sans égard à la location géographique. En fait, le fait que le site soit bilingue, nous a permis de contrer cet écart linguistique.

J’ai aussi envie de te faire part des qualités du Web que nous avons découvert. Nous n’avons aucune restriction de durée, de nombre d’épisodes ou de cadence de mise en ligne. Nous suivons simplement le rythme naturel de nos histoires et ça c’est franchement merveilleux.

Hélène Choquette - PIB/GDP
Photo Crédit : Marc-André Grenier

2. Je trouve la qualité des petits films ou reportages très inégale, qu’en penses-tu? Raisons?

PIB est un projet pilote où essai et erreur ont une place. Quand il est question de processus créatif, cette notion d’essai/erreur est précieuse. C’est d’ailleurs ce qui a interpelé Fernand Dansereau lorsqu’il a découvert PIB en décembre dernier. Cette possibilité de jouer en dehors d’un cadre établit et sécuritaire.

On demande aux réalisateurs d’être homme-orchestre. Ils font à la fois leur caméra, leur prise de son et évidemment, la réalisation. C’est extrêmement exigeant. Certains sont plus forts techniquement, mais malgré ces limitations techniques, tous parviennent à pénétrer dans l’univers de leur protagoniste.

Bien sur, certaines histoires sont plus fortes, mais toutes ont une pertinence. Ce constat d’inégalité est malheureusement souvent le lot des oeuvres chorales. Cependant comme nous sommes sur le Web, l’internaute a le choix de regarder uniquement ce qui l’intéresse.

C’est étonnant de voir que les films et les essais les plus visionnés ne sont pas toujours les meilleurs d’un point vue technique et même narratif. C’est là une nouvelle donne du Web. L’internaute choisi ce qui lui plaît. Comme documentariste, j’aimerais les inciter à s’intéresser à une histoire plus qu’à une autre, mais je n’ai plus cet aval sur ce public virtuel.

3. Il y a des essais photo qui sont particulièrement réussis, es-tu d’accord? Raisons?

Les essais photographiques avaient pour but premier de documenter les impacts de la crise en régions éloignées. Ce sont des petites oeuvres uniques, donc beaucoup plus faciles à regarder à la pièce alors que la courbe narrative des films évolue pendant un an et prenne leur sens dans le temps. Ils ont une formidable force artistique.

Le web donne effectivement un souffle nouveau à certains médiums qui l’on précédé. La photographie retrouve un souffle nouveau, les photographes ont la chance de pousser leur créativité plus avant et cela m’enchante.

Merci à Tobi Elliott pour l’aide avec le blog.

G-20 Police violence: No escaping the citizen camera

Riot police G20 Toronto
Riot police on the streets of Toronto for the G20 summit. Photo taken on June 25, 2010 by Katerkate (Flickr CreativeCommons)

Pioneering cinematographer Dziga Vertov (the Camera Eye) dreamed of an omnipresent camera, one which could look at reality from all angles and at all times. Could he ever have imagined today’s reality, with everyone recording video on their cameras and cell phones?

As Quebec filmmaker Philippe Falardeau says, we are in the age of “tout le monde filmant, tout filmé.” (“Everyone filming, everything filmed.”) And we have known since the 1991 case of Rodney King, a black man savagely beaten by police in which an amateur video proved there was a police cover-up, that video is now a precious tool for democracy and against repression.

Katarina Cizek and Peter Wintonick made a film about this ten years ago or so, (Seeing is Believing, 2002) and since then cell phones and social networks have caused the citizen camera phenomenon to grow exponentially.

The latest case in point is the way the scandalous brutality of the police intervention at the Toronto G20 summit was documented on video. For a good first-hand account and commentary by Ezra Winton (Cinema Politica, Art Threat) rest here.

I have had my share of experiences shooting at political summit meetings. With my friends Anna Paskal and Malcolm Guy, I made Pressure Point, about a civil disobedience action at the 1998 Montreal Conference. I documented the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001 with the help of six other directors and crews. (View from the Summit, co-produced by Erezi and the NFB.)

And I was at the Montebello summit in 2007, filming with the Raging Grannies. That’s where a police agent provocateur was caught on camera, providing conclusive proof – for those who still doubted it – that fueling violence to discredit and criminalize dissent is indeed a police tactic.

In Toronto, the authorities needed to show that there was serious trouble. How else would they justify spending more than a billion dollars on security?

Filmmaker Paul Manly and the Communications Energy and Paper Workers Union provided these links to images from the police intervention in Toronto. Watch and draw your own conclusions! Their comments included.

And there is quite a lot of conjecture about the footwear worn by some of the supposed Black Block smashers. It is rumoured that the police collective agreement specifies that regulation footwear be worn on the job no matter what, and it does seem that the smashers were wearing footwear that looked very like police footwear….
This video shows police dressed as anarchists helping with arrest raids at Queens park.
This series shows police near police cars at King and Bay before the cars get trashed.
This series shows riot police half a block away from Young and College doing nothing.

This is another angle of the police cars at Bay and King before the black bloc arrive – police had lots of time to act but didn’t.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

La crise économique ad marem usque ad marem: PIB

PIB/GDP: 'Famille à la casse'
Copyright: ONF/NFB

Cette semaine à Sunny Side of the Doc à La Rochelle, l’ONF et ARTE France ont annoncé une collaboration pour la production de documentaires pour le web. Ils produiront un documentaire par année, avec un budget de 100.000 $ Can. Les deux ont déjà une expérience considérable avec les webdocs.

Depuis presque un an déjà, l’ONF a mis en ligne un projet majeur, PIB – L’indice humain de la crise économique Canadienne. La Directrice du programme français, Monique Simard, une ancienne dirigeante syndicale et politicienne dont les préoccupations sociales sont bien connues, a pris l’initiative de cette expérience.

Son intuition de départ: la crise économique ne serait pas passagère, et elle serait assez profonde pour changer le cours de la vie de beaucoup de gens. Le projet PIB a permis à beaucoup de cinéastes et photographes à travers le pays de suivre des personnes affectées par la crise. Je n’ai pas regardé tout, évidemment, mais voici quelques impressions.

D’abord, l’architecture du site est impressionnante, le design aussi. On a accès aux histoires racontées dans les deux langues officielles, avec sous-titres au besoin. On peut voir des épisodes multiples dans l’ordre qu’on choisit. On peut commenter, partager, utiliser les médias sociaux pour en parler.

Pour le contenu, je l’ai trouvé très inégal. Il y a d’excellentes histoires, comme ‘Famille à la Casse’, l’histoire d’un couple formé d’un travailleur et une travailleuse de l’automobile, Brian et Cassandra, qui perdent leurs emplois et doivent se battre pour survivre. C’est très dans la tradition du documentaire, sans la structure dramatique mais en échange l’avantage du suivi de l’histoire à travers les épisodes.

La même chose vaut pour un reportage sur une famille immigrée qui tient un motel en Colombie Britannique – on rentre dans leur univers, on comprend les défis qu’il doivent relever et leurs émotions. Parfois une série commence bien, comme cette histoire d’un groupe de jeunes femmes dans l’Ouest qui tentent de sortir de leur endettement – mais à un moment donné il ne se passe plus grand chose, on tourne en rond et on fait du remplissage. Et puis, il y a malheureusement des histoires qui ne donnent pas grande chose, ni côté humain ni côté production.

Daniel Poulin / St-George de Beauce
Copyright: ONF / Photo : Renaud Philippe

Une des plus belles surprises de ce projet est la qualité des reportages photo, réalisés notamment par Renaud Philippe à Québec, Brian Howell à Vancouver, Goh Irotomo et Craig Chivers à Toronto. La photo ci-haut est tirée justemment d’un reportage de Renaud Philippe intitulé ‘Le vouloir c’est le pouvoir’.

La semaine prochaine: une conversation avec Hélène Choquette, la réalisatrice qui coordonne PIB/GDP.

Merci à Tobi Elliott pour son aide avec ce blog.