If you wonder what Vancouver will look like in 2010, Conrad Schmidt’s new documentary offers a bleak vision. The Work Less Party organiser has just finished his film Five Ring Circus in which he looks to hold politicians and Olympic organisers accountable for the promises they made in order to get the Games. While all levels of government prepare to host the world, the film is a scathing look at the social, economic and environmental costs and consequences that surround the event and how they are shaping the city we live in.
ONLY: This movie is pretty heavy. What was the hardest part of putting this documentary together?
Conrad Schmidt: There were so many negative things coming up. There were a lot of intense concepts we had to deal with and it’s not light-hearted. The fact that it isn’t light-hearted and that it is a very serious movie. That kind of documentary means you have to deal with serious stuff everyday, like the police arresting people. You have to deal with people being evicted, the situation homeless people find themselves in, police brutality. It’s depressing seeing just how corrupt politicians can be and the lies. But then again, the rewards are being able to put that out there and show what’s going on. I thought that was important to do.
ONLY: The movie works in a number of ways and serves predominantly as a type of social audit, where you essentially hold the different levels of government accountable for the promises they made…
CS: Exactly and it’s definitely not looking good.
ONLY: One aspect of the film that added emotional depth was the fact that you managed to capture footage that never gets seen, especially at the protests and the building occupations. Were you ever in danger of being arrested yourself?
CS: Well when you’re doing camerawork you have the choice of either being with the rest of the cameras at the other end or you can be right there with the protest where the action is happening. And we always made sure our cameras were where the action was. Yeah, so we were threatened, and I was threatened countless times of course. We’d say we are making a documentary and the police would say if we did that again they’d arrest us. The people working on the project were very courageous, and they went out there and risked a lot. Regular camera crews are under instructions to “not give the station a bad reputation, otherwise the police won’t work with us in the future.” So they’re very polite and so they miss the footage. You can see we had a cameraman right inside the Cambie squat, and he was pulled out of there by the police. Our camera people were in the thick of it all the time.
ONLY: While it’s important to inform audiences about the issues surrounding the Olympics, the movie also seems to be a wake up call. Is the hope with this movie to inspire people to act?
CS: Absolutely… There just seems to be this general sense of apathy, we let politicians lie to us every single time and we do nothing about it. Like the VANOC argument or the pro-Olympics argument that “They’re coming and there’s nothing you can do about it so you’d better just enjoy the ride” is a little like a rapist telling you “you can’t run away, so you might as well enjoy the sex.”
At some point we’ve got to fight back. And the only reason they get away with it time and time again is because we believe them when they say we’ve got to sit back and enjoy the ride. I mean what type of cost accounting is this that they can be 100% off in just two years? The excuse is that they didn’t account for inflation… yet all the Games in the last few years have caused property and construction inflation. What did they think was going to happen?
ONLY: If I had that kind of accountant they’d get the boot pretty fast.
CS: I know, it’s not like we get to be 100% off when we do our taxes.
ONLY: It seems like one of the difficulties in getting regular people to understand the social and economic problems associated with something like the Olympics largely comes from representation of those opposed to the games as being a group of aggressive trouble-makers. The mainstream reaction to the clock unveiling is a good example.
CS: It also about the police involvement. That was planned as a non-aggressive, friendly event. And then the police smashed the banners of the “NO” side, and that really pissed people off. I mean, the protesters weren’t doing anything up until that point. And then when they start doing pre-emptive arrests when they go through the crowd arresting people they think are suspicious and then they arrest the wrong suspicious people as well…It’s infuriating. And then the thing with Harriet [Nahanee], well that is very, very serious. People are really, really angry at the moment.
ONLY: Harriet was the First Nations lady who was arrested at Eagle Ridge Bluff, was sent to jail and just died of pneumonia right?
CS: Yeah, she was the person to whom the film was dedicated. I mean she did have lung cancer, but she was a 70-year-old granny and I was in the courtroom when they took her away. They didn’t give jail time to any other of the protesters they just got fines. And the reason why Harriet got jail was because she refused to apologise. And then they sent her off to Surrey Pretrial, which is a genuine hardcore prison. It’s not a place you want to send 70-year-old sick grannies. It’s just the wrong kind of behaviour.
ONLY: How long ago did you start working on this movie?
CS: About a year and a half ago. I was spending some time interviewing homeless people on the streets about police brutality and many of them kept saying “it’s the Olympics, they’re trying to clean up the city for the Olympics.” I never managed to prove that link, but I then decided to start investigating the Olympics further. And now with the Mayor’s Project Civil City we definitely know there is an Olympic clean-up operation happening.
ONLY: In the movie you interviewed the mayors of Burnaby and West Vancouver, both of which have been critical of the Olympics. Were these people reasonably accessible?
CS: That’s something a lot of people don’t understand. These mayors aren’t anti-Olympics but they have some real, legitimate concerns. They really care about their communities. They’re not anti-Olympics, but they are very concerned about some of the things being done in the name of the Olympics.
ONLY: The mainstream media presents the issues simplistically as either pro or against, totally polarised.
CS: Yeah, it’s a kind of patriotism. If you’re anti-Olympics, they bill you as unpatriotic, where it might just mean you have a conscience and have some real concerns. Like the stuff about the Olympics being environmentally friendly… I mean wow, I can’t believe that people actually believe that. Like the skating oval being green – that’s a joke. Is the planet better off if we have a hundred of them? It just increases our environmental footprint. And then you add the running costs of having a giant refrigerator with a few people trying to skate fast–the energy costs, the resources that go into it–and then they have the cheek to say that it’s good for the planet? I find it really funny that they bring out a report about how green the Vancouver Olympics are going to be and they release it on a piece of paper… like this document will prove it’s green…
ONLY: You have to wonder what they mean by “green” then.
CS: For the most part it means recycling and waste reduction. And it’s pretty irrelevant if you think about how much waste went into just flying people over here. Like recycling this plastic cup is going to offset that carbon emission waste. I mean a transatlantic flight alone is equal to 6 months of normal car driving.
ONLY: There must have been a lot you didn’t put in the movie.
CS: It was difficult, like there was a bunch of stuff with Sam Sullivan. I spent a lot of time in city council meetings. There was one scene where this person was really upset and was yelling “What is this legacy?” and the camera pans over to Sam Sullivan and he’s reading the comics in the newspaper, laughing. I mean there was a lot of stuff like that where it was good footage but I decided that it was irrelevant because we were making a movie about the Olympics and not crazy Sam Sullivan.
Five Ring Circus opens Friday March 2 at the Rio Theatre at Commercial and Broadway. Runs until March 8. Showtimes 9 pm.