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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Voices On The Margins

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday September 3, 05:17 pm
Two local docs explore different types of exploitation

In September, Saskatoon will see the premières of two new documentaries, from two different home-grown artists. One tells an intimately local story, while the other looks at an issue that concerns the entire nation. But both are trying to do the same thing: to give a voice to those who’ve been pushed to the margins of society.



Thursday 10


A Chance to Speak is a “street” documentary of sorts, examining the lives of people in Saskatoon who’ve been affected by homelessness, gang violence and the sexual exploitation of children.

Vernon Boldick, producer and director of A Chance to Speak, says that the task of gaining first-hand insight from people living on the streets was a huge challenge for him and his team.

“We aren't from that world. It's very obvious, there's still quite a racial divide. We are white, middle-class guys who are coming and asking a lot of personal questions to people who often have aboriginal ancestry,” said Boldick. “The challenge for them is to open up. A lot of individuals on the streets are closed off and hurt, so the big challenge was gaining trust.”

The documentary was born out of a desire to understand more about the people commonly seen panhandling downtown, says Boldick. His small production team, DT Productions, started shooting in March, simply trying to connect with some people who are often overlooked by society. Once they started, they realized there was no end to what they might uncover.

“When we started filming, we realized ‘Oh my goodness, we just scratched the surface.’ And several months later, we've still barely scratched the surface even now. There so many stories that need to be told. There's a lot of frightening things going on in the city that people just don't see or realize,” he says.

With so many stories that needed to be told, DT Productions only stopped shooting mere weeks before the film's première. One of those shocking realities they uncovered, says Boldick, was that among the recorded 450 homeless people in Saskatoon, 10 per cent are children.

“A lot of people just aren't aware. There's seven-year-old children being sold for no more than a case of beer for sex. We just don't know about it. If we knew about it, we wouldn’t stand for that,” he says.

The documentary serves as a forum for many of these forgotten people to have their voice and their stories heard, he says.

“As the title says, we’re giving these people a chance to speak,” says Boldick. “When speaking with people, we were met with some resistance, but the vast majority really loved the idea. This has gotten so much bigger. People want to share, people are excited that we’re listening. That somebody cares.”

After the free screening on Sept. 10th there will be a panel discussion. Donations, which will in part benefit STR8-UP, a local organization which assists individuals leaving gangs, will be welcome.

“This event is to educate — both those who are struggling and in need of help, and for the public, to get people more familiar with what's going on in our city,” says Boldick. “The more we understand about our communities, the more we'll be able to grow in a healthy way.”



Thursday 10


Initially, says Tomas Borsa, he had no idea what he was doing.

“We just sort of set off,” says Borsa, the co-writer / director / producer of the new documentary Line in the Sand. “At first it was just a three-week stint: One person taking photos, one on video and myself doing interviews. We honestly didn't know what we were getting into. We were under-funded and under-prepared.”

What started out as plans for a short book (or maybe just an article, or perhaps even a podcast) on the Northern Gateway pipeline eventually grew into a full-length feature documentary.

“Seeing as we had a videographer with us, the material was there, and being that three weeks was nowhere enough time to dedicate to this issue, we decide to transform it into a full-length doc. It seemed more appropriate for the subject,” says Borsa.

The result — after three years of research, travel and interviews — is a documentary on the individuals and communities that would be affected by the Northern Gateway pipeline. Gateway, which has been approved by the federal government, is proposed to transport more than half a million barrels of crude oil per day.

“We realized really quickly those for the pipeline weren't willing to talk to us. We got the sense that we weren't entirely welcome. As soon as we entered B.C. and starting talking to those affected, we found it to be very different — one side saw it as something they were very passionate about talking about, and one saw it as a non-issue,” he says.

Borsa and his co-director / producer Jean-Philippe Marquis traveled the length of the pipeline’s 1,177 km proposed route, from the oil sands in Bruderheim, Alberta, to the coastline of Kitimat, B.C. What they uncovered was just how devastating this pipeline could be, on a variety of levels.

“In Alberta, there's already some huge legal cases surrounding the health effects and how harmful that type of extraction is for any person, or even cattle, living around it. And with the amount of forest needed to be cleared, anyone who has traplines around there is eff'd. [And] it disturbs the migratory paths of elk and deer,” he says.

“Biggest of all, and one of the most prominent narratives: The indigenous livelihood and access to land. Because in B.C., the vast majority of First Nations never signed a treaty, so it puts them in a unique position. It's the nation state versus the First Nation state, which is very ugly to get into.”

It was this human element that was missing from mainstream coverage of the Northern Gateway pipeline, debate, says Borsa, and he wanted to ensure those affected were the ones in the spotlight.

“There had been two or three short pieces done on the Northern Gateway, but the videographers had essentially just turned the lens on themselves. No one wrestled with the bigger issues: How does this affect farmers, livelihood, agriculture, lifestyle in general? Once we’d put one foot in front of the other, we owed it to these people who’d been so welcoming to us to give it the attention that it deserved.”

The documentary has been accepted into several festivals, including the Document International Human Rights Festival in Glasgow. Line in the Sand screens on Sept. 10th at the Broadway Theatre, free of charge. Even for those not directly impacted by the pipeline, it’s an important issue on a national level that will, in some way, affect us all.

“Energy politics are coming to the fore as election issues, and more generally, as a dinner table conversation. We can't hide from energy politics, and the pipeline is a huge part of that conversation,” says Borsa. “The documentary is a testament to how easy it is to connect with other people's world views and establish empathy when you go in with a learning mindset and are open to hearing other people's perspectives. People have a real, direct connection and knowledge of the land that needs to be considered when weighing the pros and cons of a decision like this. And just because it isn't easily quantified doesn't mean it's not a useful resource.”  

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