Cinema Politica Mondays: Documentary film (T)error reveals FBI entrapment methods

Terror FBI

(T)error is a documentary that shows how the FBI keeps itself in business by using informers and infiltrators to create “terrorists” it can then arrest. Neat trick, huh? This has been going on for decades, but things were stepped uo considerably after 9/11. Montrealers, I suggest that you watch this film tonight, at 7, at Concordia University. Friends in other cities, I hope that you have a chance to see it, too.
There are many positive reviews of (Terror on the Internet, one is by Peter Debruge of Variety. It begins with this: “A vital expose of American law enforcement carried out with almost reckless zeal, Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s “(T)error” pushes the boundaries of documentary ethics, plunging itself into the middle of an active FBI sting operation while playing both sides in an attempt to understand — and by extension, to reveal — how the U.S. government identifies and apprehends terror suspects.”

Debruge’s review ends this way:  “The FBI may seem all-powerful and intimidating, but by focusing on an imperfect in-the-trenches personality like (informant Saeed) Torres, who does it for the money at great cost to his own conscience, the film stresses just how fallible the system is — and the urgent need to police it more closely.”

The headline on Alan Scherstuhl’s review for the Village Voice says that the films is “Absurd And Revealing.” Yessiree! He goes on to say: “The war on terror bumbles home in Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s amusing and dismaying portrait of incompetence and entrapment. Former Black Panther Saeed “Shariff” Torres has been pressed into service as an FBI informant, tasked with cozying up to American Muslims the Bureau finds suspicious — and then doing whatever he can to confirm his overseers’ assumptions. This time, the 63-year-old is dispatched to Pittsburgh to investigate Khalifa al-Akili, a convert Torres doesn’t believe is a threat: ‘That dude ain’t gonna bust a grape.’ ”

“Soon things go from sadly dumb to dizzyingly absurd, a surveillance-age roundelay. . . Inevitably, this tense comedy dips into tragedy, with our fearful intelligence agencies getting everything wrong and the filmmakers using their rare access to chart each mistake as it happens.”
(T)error will be shown at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Room H-110 of the Hall Building at Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. It’s a pay-what-you-can event, with suggested amounts ranging from $5 to $10.

(T)error was directed by David Felix Sutcliffe and Lyric R Cabral. Sutcliffe will answer questions afterwards, via Skype, or something like it. I already have several in mind!

For more information, visit the Cinema Politica Facebook page for the event.

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FNC 2015: Ninth Floor, a documentary film about the ‘Sir George Williams computer riot’ will be shown where the events took place

Concordia professor Clarence Bayne (left), director Mina Shum and producer Selwyn Jacob across the street from the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University. (National Film Board of Canada photo.)
Concordia professor Clarence Bayne (left), director Mina Shum and producer Selwyn Jacob across the street from the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University. (National Film Board of Canada photo.)

“Sirens reverberated through downtown Montreal as fire trucks and police cars rushed towards the three-year-old Hall Building. Surrounded by riot police clashing with protestors, the ninth floor of the jewel of Sir George Williams University was on fire. Black smoke billowed from open windows and onlookers watched with horror and disbelief.” (Excerpt from an anniversary article by Justin Giovannetti in the student newspaper The Link, Feb. 10, 2009.)

It’s known in local lore as the “Sir George Williams computer riot.” In May 1968, a biology professor at Sir George Williams University was accused of racism against his Caribbean students. After months passed without action from the university administration, students occupied the ninth floor computer centre in February of 1969. Eventually, computers were trashed, windows were broken, and punch cards floated down onto the snowy street below. The riot squad moved in; someone started a fire. The damage was in the millions of dollars.

Computer punch cards and other paper litters the ground below the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University in February, 1969. (Concordia Archives photo via Nationa Film Board of Canada web site.)
Computer punch cards and other paper litters the ground below the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University in February, 1969. (Concordia Archives photo via Nationa Film Board of Canada web site.)

On Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 we Montrealers will have a rare opportunity involving time, memory and (physical space). In the ground floor in Room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building, of Concordia University, we can watch a documentary about the events that took place all those years ago, just a few storeys above. (Before the occupation, a committee to discuss the complaints against the teacher had taken place in H-110 itself.)

Among the people who attend tonight, some will have little to no knowledge of what happened, some will have watched footage on the nightly news back in the day, some might have been part of the occupation. Some might be second-generation Concordia students.

What will it feel like? I can’t imagine, but I intend to find out. I’m sure there will be many interesting questions and comments. Director Mina Shum and members of the Concordia Caribbean Student Union will be among the guests at the screening.

Ninth Floor was shown at the Toronto Internationl Film Festival (TIFF) and received positive reviews. Some U.S. writers expressed surprise and disappointment that Canada is not always the kinder, more gentle nation that we (and they) might like to think that we are.

For those who cannot go on Friday, Oct. 9, there will be another screening at noon on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in the J. W. McConnell Building across the street.

Ninth Floor is being presented by the Festival du nouveau cinéma and Cinema Politica of Concordia University. There is a Facebook page for the screening of Ninth Floor.

You can also read about Ninth Floor on the FNC web site. The 2015 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015.

Cinema Politica: After the Last River explores Attawapiskat’s troubles

AFTER THE LAST RIVER kids protest

The northern Ontario town of Attawapiskat has been in the public eye a lot over the last few years, because of its housing crisis. Victoria Lean’s documentary film, After the Last River, provides a much deeper look at the situation than you’re likely to get on a nightly newscast. The stories that she tells would be interesting (and distressing) at any time, but they are particularly relevant now, as the federal election gets nearer.

Lean visited Attawapiskat for the first time in 2008. She tagged along with her father, ecotoxicologist David Lean, who had been invited there by the Cree community to share his expertise. De Beers had just opened a diamond mine in the area and residents were worried that this would lead to an increase the already high mercury levels in the local fish that were part of their traditional diet. That’s exactly what did happen.

Canadian diamonds are marketed as ethical, in contrast to “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds” from Africa, but an article on the Mining Watch Canada web site says “There are no clean diamonds. Exploring for them, digging them out of the ground and selling them requires sacrifices from the natural environment, from the wildlife and fish that live on it, and from the Aboriginal people who depend on it. . .The federal, provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks in Canada are inadequate to protect the environment from long term and cumulative environmental effects.” (The film informs us that the federal government weakened environmental protection legislation when it passed Bill C-38 and C-45.)

An aerial view of the Attawapiskat River community.
An aerial view of the Attawapiskat River community.

Victoria Lean returned to Attawapiskat several times over the next five years. She began making a film with an ecological focus, but as she explains in her director’s notes, “it expanded to the community’s rights to education, healthcare, housing and a clean and safe environment. One of the goals of the film is to draw attention to a number of intersecting challenges.”

Among the things we learn in After the Last River: In the 1970s and 1980s, the federal government built homes with substandard materials, and that housing has deteriorated further since then. Many homes do not have running water; residents use buckets for toilets. Some homes are plagued with black mould. In 1979, 30,000 gallons of diesel leaked under the elementary school, which remained in use, despite bad smells and students complaining of headaches. The school finally closed in 2001, and the students were moved into portables, right next to the toxic site. They had to wait until 2014 for a new school.

Relatively recent news clips from Parliament and the Ontario legislature show that both levels of government are adept at playing the old “it’s-not-my-department” game. It’s truly maddening to watch those clips, after seeing the terrible conditions that people are living in. Old news clips shot in the north show that little has changed in decades.

Residents discussing their situation with Lean say that “People in the south think that we own diamonds and we’re rich. They don’t know what’s happening here.” “We’re not rich; it’s just the land that rich.”
The mine has not improved the lives of the people of Attawapiskat. In fact, it looks like the mine has only brought benefits to DeBeers and its immediate employees.

Amazingly enough, the amount of royalties paid by DeBeers to the Ontario government is confidential. However, through diligent digging, the CBC discovered that: “the provincial government made more money on salt royalties in 2013-14 than diamonds. De Beers Canada, which owns the only diamond mine in the province, paid $226 in royalties while salt netted the province $3.89 million in royalties.” “. . .De Beers paid little or nothing for most of the seven years its Victor mine has been in production in Northern Ontario, about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat.”

De Beers is said to have its eyes on 15 more diamond deposits in the area.

After The Last River
Victoria Lean / Canada / 2015 / 86 ‘ / English
Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, 7 p.m.

Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve West, Room H-110
Montreal, QC
Canada

Director Victoria Lean, producer Jade Blair and special guests will be in attendance. The screening is co-presented with the Sustainability Action Fund and Mining Watch Canada. The venue is wheelchair accessible.
For more information visit Cinema Politica’s Facebook page for this event.