Free trade can be funny

Fuck Conan O’Brien.Canadians are comic geniuses.That much is clear from TVO’s current slate of documentaries about world economics and big business. Er, wait a minute-who could make those topics funny? Well, apparently we can.Along with the brilliantThe Corporation (previously reviewed in these pages), currently making a killing on the theatrical and festival circuit, the more whimsical Free Trade is Killing My Mother was showcased by the local channel last week.

Written, produced and directed by former Varsity scribe (and current Globe and Mail columnist and CBC arts show Play contributor) JamieKastner, Free Trade is Killing My Mother explores the necessity and absurdity of public demonstration. Based on the April 2001 gathering against the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City, the documentary is an amusing and vivid journey into the experience of protest.

The extremely likeable Kastner is always before the camera, revealing how little most protesters know about the topic they’ve mobilized against by conducting ridiculous interviews, such as asking at the tourist information centre in abysmal French, “If one wanted to throw bombs on something historical as a revolutionary symbol, what would be the best place?”

No one is safe from his ridicule:He chases after (anti-globalization icon, former Varsity editor/colleague and fellow Globe columnist) Naomi Klein asking for an interview, making her appear as rude and self-important as any corporate executive.Amidst the backdrop of people being gassed and jailed, he notes that NDP MP Sven Robinson “will be suing the government” for having his pants torn in the melee.Everyone is mocked (equal-opportunity mocking?).

Despite Kastner’s eye for the comedic, his film leaves a strong sense that the viewer is getting a broader picture of the event than any presented in the conventional media at the time of the protest.This is most evident in the newspaper photos of the demonstration, which only show a violent crowd at the fence, ignoring the intimidating, well-armed and organized police presence or the larger peaceful protest occurring nearby.

In an interview, Kastner describes the protest as “a fascinating experience-it was scary. I learned I’m personally not made for front-line battle,” he quips. Yet he and his co-producer/cameraman did end up at the site of violence, due to “journalist instincts, rather than our desire to be near the line of fire.”

Kastner’s ironic stance throughout the film reflects his own struggle with the issues central to the demonstration: in an early shot, he makes a point of showing he is wearing Adidas shoes and drinking Starbucks coffee.”Part of the genuine dilemma for everybody is there’s no getting away from it,” he explains. “You don’t particularly want to support sweatshops, but it would be a full-time job to do otherwise.You just get into a full-time job of holier-than-thou politics. I remember from [my time at] The Varsity, ‘Oh, you’re wearing leather!’Who fucking cares?After a certain point it’s so solipsistic.”

On the other hand, he notes, “I think it is necessary to let the powers that be know that we’re not okay with what they’re doing. If you view it as a class war, they’ll say ‘So what?’ as long as they can.Indeed that is the dilemma, that futile as it may seem, it is still the correct human, humane impulse to make the noise of opposition, as opposed to totally rolling over for it.”

TVO’s documentary series continues with like-minded film The Corporation, showing in three instalments: Feb. 25, Mar. 3 and 10 at 10 p.m.

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