Through a Blue Lens

Through a Blue Lens


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This gripping documentary takes a powerful look at the lives of people with substance use disorder in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Filmmaker Veronica Alice Mannix follows Constable Al Arsenault and six other police officers on their daily beat, documenting their unique relationships with people who speak candidly about their painful past experiences, their drug addiction, and life on the street.

This film deals with mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised

Manifesto Point # 6: Work through the ethics, privacy and consent process with your partners before you begin, and adapt your project accordingly. Sometimes it means changing your whole approach – or even dropping it. That’s the cost of being ethical. Here’s a controversial one. An undoubtedly gripping and raw film, Through a Blue Lens (1999) raises serious questions about the ethics, privacy and consent issues when police arm themselves with video technology in the “mean streets” of Vancouver. The police motivation for making this film was honorable: they hoped to create an educational tool to help prevent drug use among young people by filming what they witnessed on the job every day. But video in the hands of law enforcement is a tricky issue. How much did the subjects have a say in the making and distribution of this film? This is one of the NFB’s best selling DVDs of all time. But should this film have been made in the first place?

Katerina Cizek
From the playlist: Manifesto for Interventionist Media - because Art is a Hammer

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Through a Blue Lens, Veronica Alice Mannix, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • participant
    John Bear Curtis
    Richard Todd
    Kevin Frank
    Danièle Shannon
    Jean-Michel Henry
    Debra Karen
  • cinematography
    Toby Hinton
    Dave Kolb
    Dale Weidman
    Len Hollingsworth
    Al Arsenault
    Mark Steinkampf
    Walt McKay
  • director
    Veronica Alice Mannix
  • director of photography
    Daniel C. Mannix
  • editor
    Shelly Hamer
  • additional police cinematography
    Jim Mitchell
    Carla Webb
    Andy Tomec
  • consultant
    Michelle Bjornson
  • story editor
    Michelle Bjornson
  • music composer
    Dennis Burke
  • musician
    Jim Porter
  • additional cinematography
    Rudolf Kovanic
  • camera assistant
    Dave Lank
  • location sound
    Jonathan Ritchie
  • sound consultant
    Brent Marchenski
  • stills
    Al Arsenault
    Toby Hinton
  • production stills
    Bob Semeniuk
    Christopher Grabowski
  • demo editing
    Christopher Keam
  • sound design
    Orca Pacific Productions
  • mix
    Orca Pacific Productions
  • video post-production
    Rainmaker Digital Pictures
  • motion control
    Carousel Video Transfers Ltd.
  • production supervisor
    Kathryn Lynch
  • program administrator
    Bruce Hagerman
  • producer
    Gillian Darling Kovanic
  • executive producer
    Graydon McCrea

  • captsparks1

    I used to work security in the downtown east side, and I have met Cst. Arsenault a few times. Sometimes we forget that there is a human element to every addict we encounter, a life story. It's not as simple as treating addicts as a criminal issue instead of a social one. This movie is a powerful reminder that the cost of addiction is great, and is never ending. I have personally seen the difference between clean and wired. Nothing prepares you for it. These Constables have a job that is unpopular and difficult in the extreme, and by doing this film, they may have fallen into an idea that will assist in the war on drugs more so than any amount of enforcement can. Prevention is better than intervention.

    captsparks1, 2 Aug 2014
  • squamlyfe

    This was a really hard video for me to watch, i have family members and friends who have struggled with addiction for along time. My friends mom lives there and has for 35 years. its crazy to see what people put themselves through and for what? i get they are addicted but at some point they had to start and they never should have

    squamlyfe, 14 Jun 2012
  • nov3mbermist

    @longoadhome A few years ago, when I was in high school, we had a few of the officers in this film (the Odd Squad) visit out school. They brought with them one of the addicts, who had since recovered, to speak first hand, in person, with the students. I'm pretty sure it was Randy. He had been clean for a number of years when he came to visit our school.

    nov3mbermist, 2 Mar 2012
  • longroadhome

    I grew up with Randy in New West , we lived very close to the Millers and always hung around , we did our drugs in those days , weed , hash oil , acid but were always able to cope with things . Randy did have the world at his feet in sports like was said the the doc , hockey being ihis #1 passion , he by far the best player on the ice at any given time when I played Juvinile AllStar with him , But he had family problems and the hockey got passed over for the party life . Seing him in this doc made me think what a waste of a life and a really great guy and friend at one point . It was great to see the help he so muchley needed to get away from what Iam sure was a daily living hell . Hang in there bro love ya your pal Ray Thompson

    longroadhome, 28 Oct 2011
  • Beryl

    I have a cousin that lives down there from time to time. This film opened my eyes to how bad it is. Damn Mr Harper if he shuts down the injection sites

    Beryl, 16 Oct 2011
  • AODA_Student

    Our Instructor for Psychopharmacology had us watch and write a paper on this film. I am not, nor was I ever a drug addict, that is why I find this movie so fascinating and I had to look on the internet for it to watch again.

    AODA_Student, 8 Aug 2010
  • bwkerr

    This movie shows that prohibition of drugs just makes everything worse for everybody, not just drug users. Switzerland legalized Heroin for addicts and there has been not one overdose death since and 2/3 of the heroin users there have jobs and crime has dropped by 60%. Drugs are not a problem, they never have been. Before prohibition started 1.3 % of people were addicted to drugs and after 70 years or more there are still 1.3 % of people are addicted to drugs. Prohibition is the cause of the problems not drug use.

    bwkerr, 22 Jan 2010

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