Although life in society is by nature a collective experience, stellar ideas often spring from inspired individuals. Indeed, we owe many of our social gains to outspoken people who believed that the many could benefit from hearing—and putting into action—their unique point of view. This month, NFB.ca is celebrating the public voice with Speak Up!, its very first thematic spotlight. Enjoy this specially curated selection of films about the public voice and its many social impacts.
This short documentary is a portrait of a tiny town, Lakefield, Ontario, and its independent weekly, the Herald. Across North America, newspapers are dying, but in Lakefield, Terry McQuitty, the town paper’s publisher, carries on a rich, 150-year-old tradition. Set to the pace of small-town life, Unheralded is a testament to the vital role newspapers can still play, and the close bond between reporter and reader.
In their predominantly white high school in Halifax, a group of black students face daily reminders of racism, ranging from abuse (racist graffiti on washroom walls), to exclusion (the omission of black history from textbooks). They work to establish a Cultural Awareness Youth Group, a vehicle for building pride and self-esteem through educational and cultural programs. With help from mentors, they discover the richness of their heritage and learn some of the ways they can begin to effect change.
This documentary is about Canadian artist Deryk Houston, who in 1999, had a life-altering journey to Baghdad. Unable to remain an outside observer of the crisis in Iraq, Deryk travelled to witness first-hand the impact of international sanctions on the Iraqi people. Compelled to speak out, the artist embarked upon a unique nature art project designed to call attention to the situation of the children of Iraq. Using rocks, gravel and hay, Deryk began to create large-scale art installations in the image of a mother and child against diverse landscapes around the world.
This documentary presents two young women from Halifax who are organizing rock concerts to raise money for the group Eastcoast Against Racism. Bronwen and Yaffa believe that the universal language of music will help unite the community. At the same time, they struggle to renew their friendship with Scott, a former Ku Klux Klan member. This moving film is set against a vibrant soundtrack of punk and rap music.
Constable Al Arsenault, along with six other policemen, document the people on their beat to create a powerful film about drug abuse. This group of officers developed a unique relationship with addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In this documentary, drug addicts talk openly about how they got to the streets and send a powerful message of caution to others about the dangers of drug abuse.
At the age of 5, Hannah Taylor spotted her first homeless person in the back alleys of Winnipeg. This experience not only troubled her, but it drove her to do nothing less than change the world. The Ladybug Foundation, the charity Hannah helped establish, has raised over a million dollars to date. With her huge heart and can-do attitude, she preaches a simple message of "Share a little of what you have and always care about others." As this short documentary proves, we all have a lot to learn from Hannah's story.
This documentary celebrates the vibrant culture and tenacious struggle of the Canadian Gypsy and introduces a new generation of Roma who claim their roots with pride. They call themselves by their rightful name, the Roma. Almost 80,000 call Canada home. Meet Julia Lovell, a passionate defender of Roma human rights, whose father is slowly gaining the confidence to reveal his heritage; and Karen Gray Boothroyd, a flamenco dancer just beginning to reclaim her Gypsy roots.
This feature documentary hilariously overturns the conventional notion of the "stoic Indian" and shines a light on an overlooked element of Indigenous culture: humour and its healing powers.Featuring an engaging cast of characters, the film is an in-depth, laugh-a-minute tour of complex issues like identity, politics, and racism.
Indigenous youth, led by Duke Redbird, argue their ideas against the blunt pragmatism of American activist and writer Saul Alinksy. Author of the book “Rules for Radicals”, Alinsky is widely considered the father of community organizing who spent his life advocating for improved living conditions in poor communities across the United States. In this impassioned debate, the young activists question the corrupting influence of power, and ask why Indigenous people cannot live traditionally and peacefully on the land. Alinsky responds, “You have got to be part of the world in order to change it. You are not going to make any changes by staying in your corner.” In Alinsky’s view, equality only happens when the disenfranchised have the strength to show the ruling powers that it will be more costly for them to withhold it. Encounter with Saul Alinksy offers fascinating insights into a conversation about power and activism that has lasting resonance today.
Released in 1969, this short documentary was one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the NFB. It documents a 1969 protest by the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) of Akwesasne, a territory that straddles the Canada–U.S. border. When Canadian authorities prohibited the duty-free cross-border passage of personal purchases—a right established by the Jay Treaty of 1794—Kanien’kéhaka protesters blocked the international bridge between Ontario and New York State. Director Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell later became Grand Chief of Akwesasne. The film was formally credited to him in 2017. You Are on Indian Land screened extensively across the continent, helping to mobilize a new wave of Indigenous activism. It notably was shown at the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz.
This short documentary by Alanis Obomsawin tells the story of Kahentiiosta, a young Kahnawake Mohawk woman arrested after the Oka Crisis' 78-day armed standoff in 1990. She was detained 4 days longer than the other women. Her crime? The prosecutor representing the Quebec government did not accept her Indigenous name.
Over the course of a decade Brooks, Alberta, transformed from a socially conservative, primarily white town to one of the most diverse places in Canada as immigrants and refugees flocked to find jobs at the Lakeside Packers slaughterhouse. This film is a portrait of those people working together and adapting to change through the first-ever strike at Lakeside.
Maude Barlow is a crusading warrior for social justice and the leader of Canada's largest citizens' rights group, the Council of Canadians. This feature film portrays Barlow's progress from young Ottawa housewife, quietly reading Germaine Greer alone at home, to outspoken activist, locking horns with such formidable opponents as media magnate Conrad Black and Thomas D'Aquino of the Business Council on National Issues. On the front lines in the battle against the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), Barlow cautions against "the rise of corporate rule”, arguing that such agreements enhance the international mobility of corporations at the expense of Canadian social programs and jobs.
When an advanced race of giant lobsters from outer space land on Earth, no one can figure out why they've come. A complete failure to communicate on both ends leads to panic and pandemonium. Why are they here? What do they want? In this clever throwback to the ‘50s B-movie, a small neighbourhood learns the value of clear communication.
This feature documentary traces the political career of T.C. (Tommy) Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan and leader of the New Democratic Party, who was voted the Greatest Canadian in 2004 for his devotion to social causes, his charm and his powers of persuasion. Known as the "Father of Medicare," this one-time champion boxer and fiery preacher entered politics in the 1930s and never looked back.
This feature-length documentary looks at those desperate days of October 1970 when Montreal awaited the outcome of FLQ terrorist acts. Using news reports and clips from the time, the film reflects upon the October Crisis and reveals the relief, dismay and defiance people felt when the Canadian army stepped in.
Using video recording technology, the citizens of Rosedale, once referred to as "the rear end of Alberta" by a frustrated citizen, pulled themselves together as a community. They formed a citizens' action committee, cleaned up the town, built a park, and negotiated with the government to install gas, water and sewage systems. And all this happened within five months.
This documentary tells the personal story of filmmaker Jari Osborne's father, a Chinese-Canadian veteran. She describes her father's involvement in World War II and uncovers a legacy of discrimination and racism against British Columbia's Chinese-Canadian community. Sworn to secrecy for decades, Osborne's father and his war buddies now vividly recall their top-secret missions behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia. Theirs is a tale of young men proudly fighting for a country that had mistreated them. This film does more than reveal an important period in Canadian history. It pays moving tribute to a father's quiet heroism.