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Three Canadian documentaries at Sundance continue long tradition of social and political activism

12 January 2012

Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year: Honoring the Protester

Montreal, January 12, 2012 – This year, three Canadian documentaries are among the 12 documentaries selected for the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (January 19 to 29, 2012). They are Yung Chang’s China Heavyweight, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’sIndie Game: The Movie, and Jennifer Baichwal’s Payback. In addition, Telefilm’s Pitch This! winning documentary Leone Stars is among the 29 recipients of a Sundance Institute grant for feature-length documentaries.

Canada is known worldwide as a pioneer and leader in the production of documentaries having an impact on society. Debates over social and political issues were front and centre throughout 2011, a phenomenon that led Time Magazine to select the Protester as its 2011 Person of the Year.

Furthermore, a Canadian documentary is on the list for an Oscar nomination consideration: Martyn Burke’s Under Fire: Journalists in Combat.

“Given the strong competition, this is an outstanding year for home-grown documentaries that provide a Canadian perspective on international issues and trends,” said Carolle Brabant, Telefilm Canada’s Executive Director. “Well-known Canadian Jeff Skoll, who produced An Inconvenient Truth featuring Al Gore (Participant Productions), believes in a different kind of philanthropy: documentaries. According to Skoll, it is encouraging that the funding of Canadian documentaries can have as positive a social impact as funding that goes directly to organizations.”

The social impact of Canadian documentaries over the years

A few years ago, Peter Raymont’s Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire raised people’s awareness of Lt.-General Roméo Dallaire’s tireless fight against genocide in Rwanda and cast a spotlight on post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicts many men and women serving in the armed forces. As a documentary filmmaker, Raymont has been travelling the world for more than 30 years to expose injustice and foster change.

Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan’s The Corporation won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2004 and was released on BitTorrent for anyone to download and watch for free. The filmmakers also launched a Campaign for Corporate Harm Reduction (C4CHR) in collaboration with In the aim of sparking change in their audiences, the campaign collects stories about the impact of the film, asking people to tell the campaign what they’ve done and what they’ve heard about as a result of the film.

The hard-hitting documentary L’Erreur boréale, by Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie, raises the question of collective responsibility regarding the destruction of Quebec’s forest heritage. The boreal forest is thought to be inexhaustible, but is it really in good hands? The documentary has sparked a province-wide media debate that persists a decade after its release.

Sturla Gunnarsson’s Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie offers a probing analysis of the current relationship between man and nature. In spite of his alarming findings, Suzuki proposes solutions that focus on sustainability and survival and issues a call to action. Educator guides provided by the National Film Board.

Following the release of Rob Stewart’s documentary Sharkwater, four countries changed their policies regarding the protection of sharks. In an effort to protect sharks, director Rob Stewart teams up with renegade conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson works relentlessly to raise awareness and educate people. His Website provides educational tools for teachers and he organizes ongoing fundraising efforts to protect sharks.

For the Charleston, Missouri community, Paul Saltzman’s Prom Night In Mississippi was a blessing as it started a conversation that had been put off far too long: the film was credited with helping to initiate dialogue among school officials about student race relations. The filmmakers worked with HBO and the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to develop a 42-page study guide, which both HBO and SPLC are promoting on their respective Websites.

The following Canadian feature documentaries are screening at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition:

China Heavyweight (majority co-production with China)
World premiere
Director: Yung Chang
Production: Eyesteelfilm
Canadian distribution: Kinosmith and Eyesteelfilm Distribution
U.S. and Asian distribution: Eyesteelfilm
International distribution: Cat & Docs
Funded by Telefilm Canada

In central China, a coach recruits poor teenagers living in the countryside and turns them into Western-style boxing champions. Through hard work and an iron will, the girls and boys learn to become adults, trained in the art of boxing and the game of life. They dream of competing in the Olympics, hoping to become China’s next amateur sports heroes. But once their training is over, the most talented novice boxers are faced with dramatic choices: do they fight for the collective good as amateurs or for themselves and their own interests in the world of professional boxing? This metaphor well illustrates the choices facing all citizens living in the new China of today.

Indie Game: The Movie
World premiere
Directors: James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Production: BlinkWorks

This feature-length documentary explores the world of video games and their creators and goes behind the scenes of the video-game industry. It follows the eventful paths taken by game designers, from the creation of their games to the games’ launches around the world.

World premiere
Director: Jennifer Baichwal
Production: National Film Board of Canada
Canadian and international distribution: National Film Board of Canada

This feature documentary, based on Margaret Atwood’s bestselling book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, offers a fascinating look at debt as a mental construct and traces how it influences relationships, societies, governing structures and the fate of the planet. From award-winning director Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes, Act of God) and producer Ravida Din of the National Film Board of Canada. Featuring Louise Arbour, Karen Armstrong, Conrad Black, Raj Patel and Bill Rees.

For more information on these documentaries and other Canadian films at Sundance:

About Telefilm Canada

Telefilm Canada is a federal cultural agency dedicated to developing and promoting the Canadian audiovisual industry. Telefilm provides financial support to the private sector to create distinctively Canadian productions that appeal to domestic and international audiences. Telefilm also administers the Canada Media Fund’s programs. Visit


Media inquiries:
Douglas Chow, Manager, External Communications
Telefilm Canada
1-800-567-0890 or 514-283-0838, ext. 2225

At Sundance:
Laurent Boyé, Jazo P.R., media relations officer