Your weekend documentary round-up

Local filmmaker Lisa Sfriso documents the rise of Québec Solidaire in À contre-courant, while shark-loving dude Rob Stewart discovers the environmentalist movement in Revolution.

À contre-courant (Against the Current)

Local filmmaker Lisa Sfriso followed and filmed Québec Solidaire founders Françoise David and Amir Khadir for years to create this doc, from the founding of the party in 2004 to their hard-won two seats in the National Assembly over the last two elections.

With a surplus of footage and intimate access, Sfriso is able to craft a dynamic portrait out of what could easily have been a dry subject. Her film captures the founders’ personalities: Khadir, charismatic, ideological and occasionally hot-headed; David, engaged, eloquent, thoughtful and patiently strategic. The film also spends a lot of time with the party’s less famous members, working tirelessly behind the scenes and on the ground.

Sfriso’s access gives her some great moments, from the party leaders being given media training (Khadir is told not to scratch his nose, David not to drink juice while making a statement) to two young media strategists settling the wording of a press release with a game of rock-paper-scissors.

The film is most interesting in the way it shows how QS has developed over the years: the long meetings, replete with arguments and infighting; the way the party had to deal with suddenly being criticized and caricatured in the media, and the compromises they have to face as they’ve grown from a street-level activist movement to a political party within the system.

It also offers a fascinating glance at how much the Quebec political landscape has changed in the years since QS’s founding. Jean Charest was the last leader standing from when the party first entered the arena; at the time, its other main opponents were André Boisclair and Mario Dumont (remember those guys?).

Much like the party itself, the film is probably only of interest to Quebec political junkies and hardcore lefties, but to those it’s definitely a must-see.



Rob Stewart’s Sharkwater was part of the wave of environmental docs that started popping up a few years ago. As he recounts in Revolution, during a post-screening Q&A for that film, he was stymied by an audience member who asked what good his anti-shark fishing efforts had done in the bigger picture. This sent Stewart on a quest of greater environmental awareness and activism, which he documents here.

Stewart’s earnest surfer-dude persona is alternately inspiringly genuine and kind of annoying. At one point he discovers the phenomenon of environmental protest, and gets really into the movement. It’s nice to see someone get involved and inspired, but his take on the movement is that of a someone with a beginner’s naiveté, without any knowledge of the difficulty of maintaining spirit in the face of overwhelming odds, the compromises, the infighting — all the things that Sfriso’s Québec Solidaire doc captures so compellingly.

Stewart is forthright in exposing his own hypocrisy — in all his travels around the world to film and promote his docs, he’s accumulated a massive carbon footprint — but he doesn’t really propose a solution to that or anything else, other than a generalized “hey, let’s all be environmental activists!” conclusion. As such, the optimistic spirit rings a little hollow. His scientific sources use mass extinction as the looming threat that should make us all pay attention. But considering what we’ve done to the planet, is our extinction really such a bad thing? ■


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