CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 9 . . . . January 3, 2003
Anyone who has been to Quebec City and walked the lovely streets will be shocked to see this film in which the same city is transformed into something one expects to see in a country deemed less civilized than Canada. Armed riot police, wire fence barricades, tear gas clouds, beatings, chaos are not expected in Canada and yet, in April 2001, this was certainly the face of Quebec City.
View from the Summit is a chronicle of the activities starting three weeks before the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City and focuses on the various groups involved. The film shows the preparations on all sides of the issues: the protestors, some of whom come from as far away as Brazil to protest the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas; the delegates who feel that they and the protestors are basically on the same side--if the protestors would only take the time to listen; the police who appear caught in the middle, and the media who are looking for a good story and want to know, "When will the violence start?"
This is a powerful film as it shows events unfolding with no further information other than what is happening at that particular time. The demonstrators are shown as having a distinct plan, but they admit that they cannot control all aspects of the demonstration. Negotiations among the various groups take place, but a degree of non-cooperation is evident.
The construction of a perimeter fence inflames the crowd as they are denied access to the delegates, and yet the same fence is seen by the government as necessary to allow the delegates a feeling of safety.
The police are shown as they rehearse for the actual confrontation. They are clearly uncomfortable, for, as one official states, "We are an arm of the people, but right now we seem to be too much an arm of the government."
Summit delegates explain why the Summit is so important, and one such delegate marches with the protestors and then later jokes about this once he is back inside with his peers. Thomas D'Aquino expresses support for the concept of protest, but only within a parliamentary process, and he does not approve what is going on outside.
Initially, the exchange between the police and protestors has an air of civility; however, the police sense an escalation and want protection. They would like something between firearms and gas and billy clubs. As the time for the demonstration nears, tension mounts, and one police officer compares what is to come like preparing for a Stanley Cup game. The police are allowed the use of rubber bullets and gas.
Confrontation, this is not what the media wants to present. Within minutes of the demonstration’s beginning, despite a call for non-violence, one faction of demonstrators attacks a media vehicle and things get very ugly. The fence is torn down, the police advance protected by shields and clubs, protestors get shot by rubber bullets, with all of this occurring amid clouds of tear gas. The wind is in the protestors' favor, and the police are both impressed and frustrated by the protestors' organizational skills.
Inside the hotel, D'Aquino is conducting an interview over a cell phone and appears untouched by what is happening outside. He repeats his support for protest, but not in the form that is going on outside.
View from the Summit, which appears to be a relatively balanced account of the events of April 2001, attempts to give a rounded view of the various players. However, the delegates move about in the hotel unfazed by the events outside. They have gourmet meals prepared and delivered. They have the protection of the police. No one is in any way at risk.
Outside, the protestors express the hope that they will be unharmed by day's end. Some are beaten while on the ground, others shot and gassed, some honestly fear for their lives. They have much to lose and no one to protect them. Four hundred and seventy-four are arrested. Meanwhile, it is business as usual inside, and the government leaders plan to have an agreement in place by 2005. So what was the point of the protest? The answer depends on which side is speaking. Everyone claims to be working for democracy.
The film is disturbing on many levels, but it could be used in classes such as World History, Politics, Economics, Society Challenge and Change, as well as Law. It would be of particular value in a Media class as the bias of the film is never stated but is certainly shown. However, much preparation would be required to help the students understand the issues. At 75 minutes, the film would use a fair amount of class time. As most of the dialogue in the film is in French, subtitles are used. Students may find this approach tedious-- especially if note taking is required. Despite this problem, View from the Summit is a powerful work and is highly recommended.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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