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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No. 1, 2016
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Robert J. Lewis
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Send a Bullet
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Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
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4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
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Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
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Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Past
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
The Good Kill

mina shum's

reviewed by



The screening of Mina Shum’s new documentary, Ninth Floor, was an auspicious event for not only its subject matter, but also for the location of this Québec première. Part of FNC 2015 in partnership with Cinema Politica Concordia, Ninth Floor recounts tumultuous events in the history of Montréal’s Concordia University -- ones that helped expose Canada’s problem with race and racism in the afterglow of Expo ’67’s multi-cultural euphoria.

Screened in the legendary Room H110 -- Concordia’s Hall Building auditorium -- Ninth Floor assembles participants of the 1969 student occupation of the university’s computer lab. Following a rupture between students and administration over allegations of racism against biology professor Perry Anderson, students piled into the computer room and staged a protest of civil disobedience, which lasted 14 days and ended in mass arrests, police brutality, vandalism and arson.

Blending present-day interviews, documentary footage and contemporary re-enactments depicting the isolation of the ‘Other,’ Ninth Floor propels the political and social issues whitewashed in the 1960s into the fabric of the modern Canadian reality. In so doing, Mina Shum situates the “Computer Room Incident” -- as it is little-known today -- in the historical context of a broader struggle of the North American civil rights movement as well as the contemporary context in which student movements continue to face the threat of institutional reprisal for justified, democratic protest.

Interviews with participants, among whom are Senator Anne Cools and former Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Douglas, speak to an exceptional group of students. Many recount experiences of every day racism as well as the state’s surveillance of their daily movements. Their stories of white society’s unease with colour -- an unease they had never expected to find entrenched in Canada -- are mirrored by other minority participants’ tales of harassment and racial violence.

All of these voices speak from various trajectories. That hundreds of students from all backgrounds came together in support of the six original Caribbean complainants show that the cause was a focal point representing wider issues of institutional racism and subversion of democratic dissent. That they were students, a social group often portrayed as either lazy and privileged, or radically ideal, made for easy media vilification that contributed to abhorrent public reaction.

Archival footage -- generously provided by Concordia University -- is often damning as administrators and principal players betray their biases by strategically stalling negotiations with the students. Witness accounts of the police siege of Hall building and its eventual infiltration also cast doubt on who was actually to blame for the fire that broke out. Whatever happened inside, the public mood in 1969 was all too well documented as passerby and counter-demonstrators chanted “let the niggers burn” as fire gutted parts of Hall Building’s ninth floor.

The première screening of Ninth Floor during this year’s FNC was a singular event in that it took place on the hallowed ground of its subject matter. The preamble and speeches continue to point to a schism between official histories and the popular imaginary. This makes the film even more important in that it transcends its proper scope to interrogate the Canadian reality of today. From the comments made by various spectators -- not to mention recent issues such as Toronto police’s racial profiling through ‘carding’, and the continually sidelined tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women -- it is clear that Canada needs to reconcile its past with its present practices in order to move forward toward a goal of real equality where the establishment no longer feels threatened by race.



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Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
2015 Montreal Percussion Festival July 3-12
2012 Festival Montreal en Lumiere
2014 IMAGE + NATION film festival (Montreal)
David Solway's Blood Guitar CD
Andrew Hlavacek - Arts & Culture Blog (Montreal)
2014 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 08-19st, (514) 844-2172
CINEMANIA (Montreal) - festival de films francophone 6-16th novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082
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