Poignant Labour Docs Screen in Whitehorse

The Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLIFF) celebrates its fifth anniversary in the Yukon on Wednesday, November 20.

CLIFF is an initiative of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), presented locally by the Yukon Employees Union (YEU).

Designed to showcase the realities of working life in Canada and around the world, CLIFF will present eight films in three screening rooms, giving viewers a choice of films from Britain, France, Haiti, Mozambique and Canada. And it’s free.

Two films from Canada are represented. One of them, The Ukrainian Labour Temple chronicles the history of Winnipeg’s historic landmark of the same name. Opening in 1918 in Winnipeg’s multicultural North End, it has long served as a social, cultural and political nexus in the city.

Here, workers, farmers and union activists have long gathered to observe the victories and setbacks of Manitoba’s labour movement. It served as a rallying point during 1919 Winnipeg General Strike and hosted many a firebrand speech during that tumultuous era.

The other Canadian entry is Last Shift: The Story of a Mill Town. Employing interviews and archival footage, this 45-minute film documents the shutdown of a paper mill in Dalhousie, New Brunswick.

Last Shift follows the history of the town, the mill and its workers, from its opening in 1929 to its ultimate closing in 2008. Directors Tony Tremblay and Ellen Rose poignantly portray Hope, hardship, labour struggles, and the mill’s eventual collapse.

The plight of undocumented immigrant workers throughout much of Europe is vividly illustrated in On Vient Pour La Visite (Coming For A Visit). A new feature documentary from France, the film portrays developments in Paris in 2009, when more than 6,000 immigrant workers went on strike to demand improvements in their treatment.

Long victimized by employers and temporary work agencies as a cheap labour source, undocumented immigrants (“sans-papiers”) were subject to arrest at any time. Yet as workers, they have the right under French law to strike and occupy their work site. Assisted by unionists, they gradually learned how to negotiate with employers and cope with police.

With first-time unrestricted camera access to the strikers’ daily lives, the director follows the courage, occasional hopelessness, conflicts and camaraderie of the workers, who learned how to strike by doing it.

Il Tesoro Sotto I Piedi (The Treasure Beneath Your Feet) is a 2013 film from Mozambique.

In a region rich in coal deposits, life has been disrupted by the changes wrought by foreign interests and their zeal to exploit the resource. Mines have replaced fields and farms, and rural villages have been destroyed and whole communities struggle to survive. In the midst of environmental destruction, the population must measure the benefits of foreign investment, against the ruin of a way of life.

Ukrainian Labour Temple, Last Shift: The Story Of A Mill, Coming For A Visit and The Treasure Beneath Your Feet will play in Whitehorse at the Yukon Employees’ Union Hall, 2285 2nd Avenue on Wednesday, November 20, as part of the free CLIFF showings. Films start at 7:00 p.m.

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