Docs

HD Documentary on dam hits a wall

A government body has refused a documentary producer full access to public hearings into a controversial hydro-electric dam project in northern Quebec, a move which has drawn outrage from the province's documentary community.
November 5, 2008

A government body has refused a documentary producer full access to public hearings into a controversial hydro-electric dam project in northern Quebec, a move which has drawn outrage from the province’s documentary community.

The provincial organization which consults the public on environmental issues, the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), told the makers of Looking for Power they could film only a small portion of the 24-hour proceedings because they aren’t accredited media, says producer Denis McCready of Productions du Rapide-Blanc.

‘It’s a double standard,” McCready says. ‘In order to be accredited we have to affiliated with a broadcaster, which we aren’t yet.’

While television news cameras were given full access, McCready’s crew was told their presence would intimidate the public. ‘It’s already difficult to speak in front of these kinds of panels. We want to make people feel as comfortable as possible. That’s our responsibility,’ says BAPE spokeswoman Danielle Hawey.

BAPE is also concerned about how the documentary will treat the subject matter, says Hawey. ‘When the media comes we understand their objective. It’s going to be on the news. But it’s another kind of filming, we don’t know their objective, is it to defend a thesis or highlight a particular part of the hearing? We don’t know. And we have no guarantee it will be fair.’

Looking for Power takes a close look at the Romaine project and also explores alternative sources of hydro around the world. ‘The documentary is not against the project,’ says McCready.

The Hydro-Quebec dam proposal has been widely criticized by environmental and citizen groups, including one lead by actor Roy Dupuis. BAPE is also on the hot seat for holding its public hearings exclusively in Havre-Saint-Pierre, a remote community on Quebec’s North Shore near the Romaine river which is hundreds of miles from the province’s major urban centers.

Hawey said it’s rare that documentary crews request access to these types of public hearings; it’s usually an individual who is either promoting or opposing a project.

‘It’s not a judgment on documentary filmmakers,’ says Hawey. ‘And it’s not about controlling information. We just have no guarantee that the information they film will be treated with rigor.’ Hawey suggests that documentary makers should establish a code of ethics similar to that of journalists.

‘For me it’s bullshit. Either we respect the work of documentary filmmakers or not. We are like journalists but we aren’t part of a group such as TVA or La Presse. It’s a question of openness of mind,’ says Roger Bourdeau, the coordinator of DOC Quebec, adding that Productions du Rapide-Blanc is a long-established, reputed documentary producer.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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