The student strike gets the doc treatment

We speak to local filmmakers Santiago Bertolino and Hugo Samson about their new documentary Carré rouge sur fond noir which explores the Quebec student crisis from the inside.

Carré rouge sur fond noir

I probably don’t need to remind you of the events that took place in Quebec in the spring and summer of 2012. The Quebec cabinet, headed by Jean Charest, proposed to raise university tuition from $2,168 to $3,793 between 2012 and 2018. and what followed this proposal was seven months of student strikes, protests and demonstrations against the cost increase, finally resulting in the agreement of a tuition freeze in September of last year.

What you probably didn’t know was that at the centre of the strike and throughout the many debates that took place, two filmmakers were documenting the birth of the social movement. Shot in cinema-vérité style, Santiago Bertolino and Hugo Samson’s Carré rouge sur fond noir allows for a raw and intimate view of the student crisis. The film is premiering at Cinéma Excentris this evening, so I had a chat with Bertolino and Samson about how the project came to be and its significance to the social movement.

Kayla Marie Hillier: When did you start filming, and at what point did you decide to make a documentary about the strike?
Santiago Bertolino: I had a hunch. I had been wanting to make a film about the birth of a social movement from the beginning to the end. I had done a lot of filming in the past about various social struggles, and I could see from the mobilization beginning in November 2011 that this struggle was going to be a major one.
Hugo Samson: Me, too. I was a student at the time, and for over a year I had been hearing about a student strike that was set to break out. Santiago and I had both been inspired by the cinema direct or cinema vérité movement; we admired the films of Gilles Groulx (24 heures ou plus…), Michel Brault and Pierre Perrault (L’Acadie, l’Acadie). It was that way of showing reality, that same sensitivity, that moved us, and we wanted to use it for this film.
SB: It was at the beginning of January, a month before the strike began, that we started doing our documentary research and some filming. And that is how we started following some of the people who were involved in the various organizing committees of CLASSE [one of the largest student organizations].

KMH: Were you personally affected by the strike throughout filming?
SB: Definitely. Since we were filming with the most militant student organization, we were at the heart of many actions of civil disobedience, blockades and other activities. Our approach as filmmakers and our desire to stay close to the subjects we were filming meant that we plunged into the struggle with them.
HS: That is why we experienced the repression, the exhaustion, the rage. For example, I was arrested when I was filming the student occupation of the Cégep du Vieux Montréal, and I was charged with criminal offences. I still have to go to trial for that.

KMH: Why did you feel it was important to document this specific social movement, to make this film?
HS: It was important to show that young people are not apolitical — they think, and they have ideas! The heart of this kind of movement is often covered up or ignored. We wanted to capture their emotions, their insights. For me, it was an example of youth who decide to organize and reflect collectively.
SB: By filming the members of the CLASSE, I wanted to shed light on a movement that was trying to organize differently. I wanted to show direct democracy in action and understand what pushes people to engage in civil disobedience.

KMH: What do you hope the film accomplishes — are you hoping it ignites more discussion?
SB: Of course we do! Our aim is not just to create archives about the strike, but to create a space for discussion and debate. The film touches on many issues: the role of the media and official spokespersons, police brutality, student debt, violence. Lots of debate took place during the strike, and there is more to be had!
HS: There is still police repression and mass arrests that have become almost systematic each time there is a demonstration. The debate around education is far from over; student fees are still going up while many still want to scrap fees altogether and have “free education for all.” So in summary, we can expect many more struggles to come! ■

Carré rouge sur fond noir premieres tonight at Cinema Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 8:30 p.m. and will begin it’s full run at the theatre on Friday, Aug. 30.

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