Activism

Cinema Politica presents This Changes Everything on Monday, Oct. 5, and Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis will be there

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING1

Montrealers can see the important documentary film about climate change, This Changes Everything, at 7 p.m., on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, at Concordia University (1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Room H-110) thanks to the organization Cinema Politica. Writer Naomi Klein and director Avi Lewis will be there. Suggested donation is $10 – $20. That’s probably all the information many of you will need. For others, I hope the review below will make you want to see it.

It’s all about the story – the story that we’ve been told, the story that we tell ourselves, the story that we believe. That story might be so firmly engrained in us that we never even think about it, or question it.

And that story is, that the Earth is a machine, and that mankind can and should manipulate its levers. The unfortunate results of that thinking can be seen all around us.

Changing the story is the first step toward changing our lives, our future and the life of this planet that we all depend upon.

After some opening shots of hurricanes, parched earth, polar bears and crumbling, tumbling ice bergs, This Changes Everything takes us to the ugly and monstrous tars sands of Fort McMurray, “the largest industrial project on Earth.” Would the citizens of any large city like Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal accept such a huge and destructive project if it were in their own backyard? Somehow I doubt it. But the tar sands are far away and the local population is small. Later in the film, such a place is called a “sacrifice zone.”

One worker claims: “If not for the oil sands, there’d be nothing to come here for.” Then the camera shows us some stunning scenery – a majestic river flowing through a pine forest.It might be difficult for the average person to get up there, but many people would enjoy seeing it, or just knowing that such a place exists.

When we’re told that $150 to $200 billion would be invested there over the next decade, I couldn’t help but wonder what could be accomplished if that kind of money was spent on sustainable development instead.

The abuse of the English language and the twisted metaphors used by some of the people in this film – you have to hear them to believe them. I predict gasps, laughter, boos and hisses at various points during the screening of This Changes Everything.

One guy has the nerve to frame the tar sands project this way: “We’re cleaning up one of the largest oil spills on earth.” There are claims that the area will be brought back to its original state 20 years from now. Tailing ponds will be cleaned and, “you’ll be able to drink the water.” I’d really like to believe that, but I just can’t.

Meanwhile, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation has filed a court case to stop any further exploration, since the oil sands are under their traditional land and the present project has already done so much damage to their lives.

I won’t describe the whole film in detail, but I will say that it visits activists in Montana, New York state, India, Greece, China and Germany. People are standing up, complaining, saying “No!” to rampant development, demanding their rights and a new way of doing things.

While Klein does not present Germany as a perfect place, she produces some impressive statistics (30 per cent of Germany’s electricity comes from renewables, emissions are down, employment is up, etc.) Could Canada do the same? Especially if we can elect a new government in a few weeks?

Speaking of our country, as a Canadian, I’m embarrassed and distressed to see a Canadian mining company throwing its weight around in Greece, eager to get its corporate mitts on the gold there. My apologies to you, people of Halkidiki. And shame on you, mayor of Halkidiki, who dismissed the intimidation and arrests of protestors when he said: “the police don’t knock on doors without a reason; they don’t knock on yours or mine.”

This woman in Halkidiki, Greece, opposes a Canadian gold mine in her area.

This woman in Halkidiki, Greece, opposes a Canadian gold mine in her area.

This Changes Everything, the film, is a companion piece to Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. They were created at the same time, the film is not based on the book.

I think it’s quite wise that the subhead, “Capitalism vs. the Climate” is not attached to the film – why alienate some of your potential audience right off the bat? As far as I can recall, the word “market,” as a synonym for capitalism, is not heard until 27 minutes into the film, and capitalism itself is not mentioned until 45 minutes in, when Greek activist Mary Christianou identifies it as the core problem. She’s initially reluctant to even say so on camera, because: “I don’t know if it helps the struggle.”

In reviewing the book, some writers suggest that “neo-liberalism” is more to blame for many of our present ills than capitalism alone. Abandoning the belief that all the resources of the Earth, the metals, the coal, the gas and the oil must be extracted, and that the Earth itself is just a machine that we can be trusted to run, seem like easier first steps on the path to change.

This screen grab from the documentary film This Changes Everything shows India buried under "Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants."

This screen grab from the documentary film This Changes Everything shows India buried under “Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants.”

This Changes Everything will be shown on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, 7 p.m., at
1455 de Maisonneuve West, Room H110, Concordia University, Montreal, QC.
Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis will be there for a Q&A session after the film.

There’s a Facebook page for the screening of This Changes Everything.

Visit thischangeseverything.org to learn more about the book, the film, and what you can do.

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Cinema Politica Mondays: Discover Grace Lee Boggs, an exceptional American

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in her Detroit home.

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in her Detroit home.

 

There aren’t any dull moments in the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

The philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs will turn 100 in June, but in this film, which was released in 2013, she still has all her wits about her. Even more impressive, she still talks about revolution and social change, and does so in Detroit, her home since the 1950s. She has so many stories to share and hasn’t given up hope that people can work together to make a better world. She warns against placing too many expectations on political messiahs, though. She suggests that “We are the leaders we are looking for.”

Grace Lee’s father owned a big Chinese restaurant on Broadway in New York. She tells us that this gave her a comfortable home life, but she also reveals that her mother had never gone to school, and that she could not read or write. Grace Lee herself earned a BA from Barnard College and a PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr. Despite those qualifications, cracking the job market was not easy. In those days, she says, even department stores would not hire “Orientals.” She got a job at a library at the University of Chicago that paid $10 per week. She lived in a rat-infested basement and came into contact with the black community when she joined the struggle for better housing.

By the 1940s the Depression was over for whites but not for blacks. The U.S. was gearing up for war but the owners of defense plants would not hire black Americans. Activists began planning a July 1 protest march on Washington. An estimated 100,000 people would take part. To keep the march from happening, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in the defense industry. Grace Lee was very impressed by this example of people power in action. As she later told Bill Moyers: “When I saw what a movement could do I said, ‘Boy that’s what I wanna do with my life.’ ”

She went to Detroit because that’s “where the workers were.” She married James (Jimmy) Boggs, who was an auto worker, writer and activist. Until his death in 1993, they worked together in the labour movement and the Black Power movement; they knew Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Their home was a meeting place for thinkers and organizers.

The film includes the derelict buildings we’re used to seeing in reports on present-day Detroit, along with scenes from the past – the prosperous past and the violent one, too. Some parts of the city look a bit like Montreal, with the same kind of buses we used to have; there’s a dark stone building with arches, kind of like The Bay department store on Ste. Catherine St. And then there’s the snow, Detroit seems to get quite a lot of snow, too.

There’s evidence that Detroit’s downhill spiral began much longer ago than one might think. Back in the 1930s as many as 95,000 people were working in one of the plants belonging to the Ford Motor Co., but by the late 1950s automation was already leading to layoffs.

The soundtrack includes “Run, Charlie, Run” a tune by The Temptations about white flight from the city to the ‘burbs. I count myself as a Motown fan, but I can’t remember ever hearing that one before. I wonder if it’s ever played on any “oldies” radio stations?

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, left, and filmmaker Grace Lee.

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, left, and filmmaker Grace Lee.

The film is directed by Grace Lee, who is no relation to Grace Lee Boggs. They have stayed in touch since 2000 when the filmmaker began work on The Grace Lee Project, a film about several Asian-American women who share the same name. (The Village Voice review of The Grace Lee Project says that Grace Lee Boggs is called Grace X by her neighbours.)

To learn more about Grace Lee Boggs, check out this book list; it includes books that she wrote and books that influenced her.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs will be presented by Cinema Politica on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 7 p.m. in H 110 of the Hall Building at Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Admission is by voluntary donation.

For more information, visit the Facebook page about the screening.

Cinema Political will show films at various outdoor locations during the summer, but American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is the last presentation at the Hall Building for the 2014-2015 academic year.

 

Cinema Politica Mondays: Righteous pranksters The Yes Men are coming to Montreal! Meet them and see their latest film!

If you’re already familiar with The Yes Men, the following information might be all you need from me: 7 p.m., Monday, March 16, 2015, Room H-110, Concordia University.

For the rest of you. . . The Yes Men are bringing the latest documentary about themselves, The Yes Men Are Revolting, to Montreal. This is the third film about them, so they must be pretty interesting, right? Right! And the film was invited to the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and the Berlin Film Festival this year.

The Yes Men are multi-talented multi-taskers. They are authors, activists, co-conspirators, inspired impersonators, performance artists, political pranksters, practical jokers, rabble rousers, social-justice warriors. Or, to put it more briefly, they’re “the good guys.” (Well, I think so, and I know that many others do, too.)

The Yes Men are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano, though they are aided and abetted by hundreds of like minded souls. They use humour, chutzpah and their considerable wits to expose injustice. They hope that their antics will shame corporations or politicians into doing the right thing.

The Yes Men are canny users of the media. They often get their message out through phony web sites, phony press releases, or at press conferences where they impersonate someone in a position of authority.

Their most audacious prank was on BBC TV in 2004. On the 20th anniversary of a deadly chemical leak in Bhopal, India, Bichlbaum impersonated a “Dow Chemical spokesman” who said that the company would take full responsibility for the disaster and spend $12 billion on clean up and compensation. (Dow Chemical had bought Union Carbide in 2001, but refused to accept any responsibility for the victims or for cleaning up the site, which was still contaminated, 20 years after the leak.)

At least 8,000 people died within 72 hours of the gas leak at a Union Carbide plant, 15,000 more died in the following years, and 100,000 had debilitating illnesses “for which treatment is largely ineffective.”

The hoax got lots of international attention, though sadly it did not prompt Dow Chemical to change its stance.

The Yes Men have impersonated representatives of the World Trade Organization, Halliburton,
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. They even have “Canadian content.” During a Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen they created several fake web sites that said Environment Canada was committed to making huge reductions in greenhouse gases, and that Canada would pay $13 billion in compensation to African countries that were adversely affected by climate change. They spoofed an oil and gas conference in Calgary, and they put Justin Bieber’s face on an asthma inhaler. (That was on a web site created to mock greenwashing by coal companies. You can read the post I wrote about it here.)
When reviewing the previous films, The Yes Men (2003) and The Yes Men Fix the World (2009) some critics wrote that they would have liked to know more about what makes the Yes Men tick, what prompts their activism. While I’ve not seen The Yes Men Are Revolting, reviews I’ve read indicate that we do learn more about the day-to-day lives of the duo and how their political work has an impact on their family relationships.

There is no fixed price for admission to the screening of The Yes Men Are Revolting, it’s a pay what you can situation, though the suggested price is $5 to $10.
I suggest bringing some extra cash, in case there is some The Yes Men merchandise for sale. Their online store has T-shirts, DVDs, posters, books, spoof editions of New York Times, New York Post AND “one Survivaball: Couture for Climate Calamity. Extremely Limited Edition – $10,000.00” I suspect that the last item is a joke. The thing does exist, but are they really selling it? Maybe we will find out on Monday night.

The Yes Men Are Revolting, directed by Laura Nix & The Yes Men / United States / 2014 / 90 ‘ / in English

Screening, with The Yes Men in attendance, at 7 p.m., Monday, March 16, 2015, 1455 de Maisonneuve West, Room H110, Concordia University, Montreal

The Facebook Event page is here.

Learn more about The Yes Men here.

Learn more about Cinema Politica here.