Tag Archives: documentaries

The Oasis trademark dispute gets short documentary treatment

You might recall back in 2012 there was a big scandal because of a dispute between Lassonde, the Quebec-based maker of Oasis fruit juice, and Olivia’s Oasis, a small company that makes skin care products.

It wasn’t the cease-and-desist letter that made headlines, or even the court case itself, which resulted in a judge not only dismissing Lassonde’s lawsuit but ordering it to pay costs. Instead, it was a court of appeal judgment that reversed the lower court’s ruling on costs that sparked social media attention when it was written about in La Presse.

Olivia’s Oasis was a small operation, and lawyer’s fees fighting the case would have put it out of business were it not for social media attention (including a Guy A. Lepage tweet) that prompted so much bad publicity for Lassonde that it quickly reached a settlement — on Easter weekend — with Deborah Kudzman, surrendering to a woman they had just beat in court.

Now, Ottawa producers Heidi Lasi and Pat McGowan have published a 14-minute documentary on the subject, which is posted on YouTube, called The Oasis Affair. It’s financed by Bell Media’s BravoFactual production fund.

The documentary is professionally produced and interesting, but it suffers from Lassonde’s refusal to participate, beyond sending an impersonal letter. I get that the company would rather forget about this story, but it would have been great to hear from people in the company at the time about how they reacted to the media onslaught and what they learned through the process. It might even have made the appear more human.

Another wasted opportunity, unfortunately.

10-year-old documentary an insight into insanity of student politics

I recently discovered that Concordia University’s television club has posted to YouTube a 10-year-old documentary called Student Politics. Directed by Sergeo Kirby, who would later produce other documentaries including Wal-Town, it tells the story of a student election at Concordia University in 2003. I appear a few times in the film giving somewhat incoherent commentary.

The time from 2000 to 2004 was a crazy one for Concordia and its student political bodies, and I was fortunate to have spent that time as a student journalist covering student politics. My first year, there was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving the VP finance writing 50 blank cheques to herself, and then a war between the student government and the student newspaper that resulted in the latter being shut down over a summer. My second year, an unprecedented popular impeachment campaign fuelled mainly by a post-9/11 backlash against radical activism, and an executive by-election that was derailed after a bribery scandal and ended in the election result being annulled. My third year, a controversial visit by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that triggered a riot, a very controversial moratorium on free speech related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a rush to the ballot box to replace radical left-wingers with a more moderate mainstream in the student executive.

Student Politics tells the story of that third year, about the heated battle between left and right (though it’s simplistic to describe the two factions in such terms), and the dynasty change that came after thousands of students from the apathetic majority finally decided they’d had enough. (That dynasty, which turned out to be no less corrupt than the leftist one, would stay in power for several years. By the time it disappeared, the left-right divide had largely faded away or been replaced by other pressing political divides.)

Highlights of the film include a point at the 22-minute mark that shows the campaigns, gathered in the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall building on de Maisonneuve Blvd., rushing through the building at midnight on the first day of campaigning to plaster every wall they can find with their posters. It’s an absurd indication of how seriously both sides took their campaigns back then.

(It’s also not the first time that year that I ran up that set of escalators in a panic trying to avoid a stampede.)

Other documentaries were made about that year at Concordia, though this was the only one to focus on student politics specifically. The other two focused on the Netanyahu riot and the conflict between students supporting the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Middle East conflict. I wrote about them a few years ago. There was Discordia, which is on he NFB’s website, which told the personal stories of the people behind this campus conflict. And there was Confrontation at Concordia, a heavily biased anti-Palestinian rant that aired on Global television. (It was originally posted to Google Video, but that no longer exists. A few minutes of it can be seen on YouTube.) The latter led to complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which found that although it obviously had a point of view, it didn’t engage in unethical practices or violate any broadcast standards to express it.

Student Politics isn’t the best documentary in the world. It was the effort of a first-time filmmaker. And I can’t really evaluate how well it tells a story I already know so well. But it’s a nice trip down memory lane to a time when the pettiness of student politics reached its peak.

And also a sad reminder of how much my hairline has receded in the past decade.

Absolutely Quebec: A taste of regional programming on CBC TV


For those (like me) who complain that there isn’t much local programming in English in Quebec outside of news broadcasts, a regional documentary and short film series is something to look forward to. This summer, CBC television presents Absolutely Quebec, a series of five one-hour documentaries and an hour of short films that reflect the anglophone community in Quebec.

The first episode, Hockey Migrations, aired last Saturday. It tells the story of a hockey tournament in Tasiujaq, an Inuit community near Ungava Bay. But it’s actually an inightful look into the culture of the region, how native communities are struggling with changes to their traditional way of life, and how hockey is a way to give kids something to do and keep them out of trouble. Its director, Tony Girardin, was interviewed on CBC Radio’s All in a Weekend on Saturday morning, and explains that the footage was actually shot seven years ago, but only edited into a documentary recently. (One of the elders interviewed in the documentary has since died.)

You can watch Hockey Migrations on CBC’s website.

“In Quebec, we have an incredibly rich history of storytelling and filmmaking,” Shelagh Kinch, the new Managing Director CBC Quebec, is quoted as saying in the press release. “CBC is proud to produce a series that highlights some of our province’s emerging filmmakers and also allows new audiences to enjoy these local stories.”

The rest of the series, which runs Saturdays at 7pm on CBMT (except Aug. 11, when CBC airs Rogers Cup tennis coverage), is as follows:

Sadly, Videotron’s on-screen listings list 7pm Saturday as being The Nature of Things, but tune in anyway. It’s one of the few chances you’ll have to watch that independently-produced local programming you complain never sees the light of day on local television.

Some of these episodes might end up being aired nationally as well, as part of the Absolutely Canadian series. But which of those will get national exposure (on CBC television, CBC News Network or the Documentary channel) and when that will be hasn’t been decided yet.

That which we call 65_RedRoses

Eva Markvoort at her laptop in 65_RedRoses

I don’t remember why I originally saw the documentary. Maybe I stumbled across it on Newsworld while looking for something to watch. Maybe someone recommended it on Facebook or Twitter and I watched it online.

It’s called 65_RedRoses, and it’s a documentary about a young Vancouverite named Eva Markvoort. She has cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs and can stop people from being able to breathe. The documentary, shot by a friend and his film-school partner, chronicles her life as she waits for – and eventually gets – a lung transplant.

Markvoort is an ideal candidate, not only because she’s young, pretty and well-spoken, but because she’s very open. She keeps a blog where she posts thoughts and pictures, and the documentary references and quotes from a bunch of blog posts. Maybe that’s part of the reason it appealed to me.

The key moment in the film comes just after the 20-minute mark, during what seems to be a very boring segment with bad audio in which Eva and her friends head out to the car. Suddenly, there’s a beeping sound, barely discernible on the documentary’s audio track, and Eva goes into shock. Her pager, whose sole function is to alert her when a donor has been found for transplant, is going off. After nine months of keeping this little brick attached to her, nine months of waiting, suddenly she’s getting the call. (It’s interesting to me to go through this blog and see the individual posts referenced – it makes it seem more real somehow.)

What follows is an emotional few minutes in which she’s so nervous she can’t properly dial a phone. Even the filmmakers are nervous. This event wasn’t staged, there was no advance notice. They’d just been following her for so long, capturing so much footage, and suddenly, in October 2007, they hit the jackpot.

I can only admire this from a strictly journalistic perspective. It’s like being at the scene of a car crash with a camera rolling. They didn’t call her after the fact and ask her what it was like. They didn’t re-enact the scene with actors. They were there, and we saw her face while it happened.

It was this shaky, low-audio footage that got the CBC on board to produce this documentary, according to an article in Eye Weekly. It’s easy to understand why. You don’t see such sudden, raw, real emotion very often. The funding led to better production values, including some computer-generated title sequences that unfortunately are a bit lame.

The documentary is a roller-coaster for Eva, her parents and friends – and, naturally, the viewer. She gets better, she gets worse, she gets a transplant, she gets better, she gets worse, she gets better again.

The documentary ends on a happy note. After surviving an early post-transplant scare, Eva recovers and is discharged from the hospital. Slowly, her breathing improves and she’s healthy again.

Another poignant moment happens when Eva participates in a dragon boat race, something she couldn’t do before the transplant. It’s at that point she meets one of her best friends, Kina, who lives in Pennsylvania and also has CF. People with CF aren’t allowed to interact with each other because of the risk of spreading superbugs, as we learn in the documentary. But with the transplant, that’s no longer a worry. Eva loses her composure as she runs to her friend, and before long everyone’s in tears.

It’s 2009, and Eva’s doing great. This 2008 year-in-review post on her blog gives a good idea of what her new life is like (ironically, her posting frequency dropped noticeably as she went out and enjoyed herself). The documentary ends with a happy Eva smiling, optimistic and excited about her future.

Except, not. After the fade to black, text comes on the screen explaining that a few weeks before the documentary aired in November 2009, Eva was back in hospital, suffering from chronic rejection. She was still posting, still doing her best to promote this documentary that stars her, particularly now that it’s gotten this exposure.

Eva Markvoort died last weekend. She was 25. The news came via a brief posting on her blog, a post that now has more than 1,600 comments.

CBC decided to re-air the documentary yesterday on CBC News Network. Kina, Eva’s friend, is trying to get it to air in the United States.

Canadians can watch 65_RedRoses free on the CBC website.

A tale of two documentaries

It was seven years ago this month – Sept. 9, 2002 – that a controversial speech planned by a student group at Concordia University turned into an out-of-control riot that became a major turning point in student politics.

For all the media attention it received, the Netanyahu riot didn’t cause much lasting physical damage. There were no serious injuries, and the 2008 Habs riot caused much more in the way of property damage than the two windows and emptied fire extinguisher cost Concordia. But the political and media fallout was enormous. The riot led to an unprecedented ban on all organized events related to Middle East issues on campus. After that ban was lifted a few weeks later, the Concordia Student Union pounced on a controversial flyer and some amateur legal analysis to hastily suspend the Jewish student group Hillel. The next spring, students voted en masse to expel the left-wing radicals in charge of student politics. For the next half-decade, students continually decided that a corrupt moderate student government was still better than bringing the leftists back.

Two documentaries were produced about the Netanyahu riot and the political conflict around it.

One was called “Confrontation at Concordia”, by Martin Himel, which aired on Global TV. There’s no official version online, but it was uploaded to Google Video in its entirety (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) by a white supremacist group (it’s unclear whether they take the side of the Jews or Palestinians in this debate – one would assume they despise both). Himel’s documentary makes Michael Moore look reasoned and unbiased. He clearly takes the side of Hillel, even comparing actions of Palestinian supporters on campus to actions in 1930s Germany that preceded the Holocaust, asking rhetorically how far Concordia’s tensions could escalate in comparison. The film invites experts from only one side of the debate, and includes a lot of voiceovers in which Himel makes bold statements based solely on his own opinion. Himel even appears multiple times to talk into the camera.

The documentary caused outrage among Concordia’s left, and even moderates (such as myself) decried it as biased. It was the subject of complaints to both the Quebec Press Council and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. Both dismissed the majority of the complaints, finding only that Himel and Global should have made it clear to viewers that this was a point-of-view opinion documentary and not a news piece.

The other documentary, called Discordia, was a production of the National Film Board and the CBC. Directors Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal took a radically different approach to their film, focusing it more on three figures involved and the personal, emotional rollercoaster they went through in those months. Addelman and Mallal do not appear in their own film, and there are no voiceovers. Only a few subtitles give dry, matter-of-fact statements. All the opinion is given by the three stars: Noah Sarna of Hillel, Samer Elatrash of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, and Aaron Maté of the Concordia Student Union. Though it is slightly biased to the pro-Palestinian side because two of those three are on one side of the debate, the film makes no grand hyperbolic statements and gives no clue to its directors’ political views.

Neither documentary, of course, tells the whole story. Such a thing would be impossible in an hour-long film. But the latter, at least, gives a slice of the nuances of the debate, while the former shows the real (if outrageously exaggerated) fears that Israel’s supporters had about what was going on at the activist university.

Concordia has calmed down considerably in those seven years, so the closest the younger generation will get to the “viper’s nest” is through such historical documents.