; Fun! Fun! Vancouver!: VIFF: Ninth Floor

Thursday, 1 October 2015

VIFF: Ninth Floor

(reviewed by Meaghan Smith)

An Insider Look at the Sir George Williams Affair

The filmmakers introduced the film by telling us that we were the third audience to ever see the film. The film covers the Sir George Williams Affair mostly from the side of the students. After an accusation of racism goes ignored for too long the students host a sit-in in the school’s computer lab in 1969. Sir George Williams would later go on to be part of Concordia University. Like many other protests it all starts peaceful until the protesters are pushed just a little too far. The computer lab ended up being destroyed and the ninth floor set ablaze.

I went into Ninth Floor with little knowledge of this protest and riot. Raised in a French speaking school I was very aware of many of the large scale protests and crises that took place in Quebec including the FLQ and the October Crisis and the École Polytechnique Massacre, so I was a little disappointed in my gap in knowledge. I like that the film reunited as many of the original complainants and protesters as possible to tell their version of the story instead of the one that has become public knowledge. The main differences in these two sides are of course how dangerous the protesters were; it was a group of peaceful students hosting a sit-in, and whether or not they lit the fire themselves, or if the locked door that trapped them in a room on fire was a clue to something a little more insidious.

The film combines new interviews with old footage to try and give as much of the student perspective as possible. The film had a little too much stock footage and overly stylized shots for my tastes, which usually pings my assumption that the film didn’t have enough primary material to make it feature length. The subjects of the film are now elderly, incredibly well spoken, and obviously well educated which helps to legitimize what they are saying. The use of a “where are they now” segment was so powerful that many members in the audience forgot their film etiquette and started speaking at the screen (something I may broach in a later piece. Long story short, don’t speak during film screenings, it’s incredibly rude and disruptive).

 Although the film is in the BC series, the film is about Quebec and race relations in Canada. The Sir George Williams Affair is something incredibly important for the people of Canada to learn about, especially now that we see ourselves as such a multicultural country. I had no idea how bad racial tensions in 1960’s Canada were because I was only ever taught about the civil rights movement in USA, and the racial tensions there and never what was happening here. Racial tension and horrifying acts of racism were and are committed right here at home and maybe a shake from the foundation is what we need to open our eyes.

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