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By Karen Herland
Lili Jeté rhapsodizes about her St-Henri home as a bit of country in the city. She speaks about the birds and animals that visit, and of her garden. She doesn’t seem fazed by the on-ramp to the 720, part of the infrastructure of the Turcot Interchange, looming over her backyard.
Her fight to maintain her neighbourhood in the face of Turcot redevelopment is one of the many stories told in Making Montreal, a feature produced by a team of 11 students for Peter Downie’s Advanced TV News course during the winter term. Students were encouraged to develop and produce their own projects. “We were given free rein to be creative,” said Jillian Kestler-D’Amours to introduce the work on May 16 in the LB Building’s Oral History lab. The presentation was one of several over the course of the day to mark the third International Day of Telling Life Stories.
The students started with the concept of identity, and began to think about its connection to place, specifically to Montreal – Montréalité according to one of the dozen people featured in the documentary.
“When we started meeting about the project they said they wanted to present how people feel they belong to a particular place,” said Downie, who is also the director of the department’s graduate programs. “I think they really captured something that is Montreal.”
“We started with the idea of how a neighbourhood’s identity develops, and realized it was the people who make the neighbourhood,” said Kestler-D’Amours.
Kestler-D’Amours introduced the piece with classmate and colleague Rebecca Munroe. The students explained that they found their subjects through word of mouth. Those that made the final cut (several interviews ended up on the cutting room floor) represented a cross-section of ages, languages and circumstances. Amongst those represented are architecture professor and member of Mile End Memories Susan Bronson, Heritage Montreal Director Dinu Bumbaru, first-time activist Jeffrey Gomben, author Sean Mills and burlesque performer Velma Candyass.
Between them they are fighting to maintain Montreal’s history and identity. Candyass stands in the dressing rooms of Café Cleopatre describing the importance of the burlesque tradition in Montreal, and the need for affordable venues for troupes like hers. Their venue is threatened by development in the Quartier des spectacles. Others are preserving neighbourhoods like the tanneries in St. Henri, Point St. Charles and Griffintown, all facing gentrification or redevelopment. “They all share the passion and tenacity to keep their homes.”
“I really like the piece. It presents the tension between making a city human and liveable and the business interests that are necessary for growth,” said Downie.
Kestler-D’Amours said they also shared a respect for the need for change in a city, “they are not against development. They just want to be included in the development process.” She added that she had hoped to get some representatives of development projects on tape, but was unable to coordinate scheduling.
Scheduling was also a challenge for the 11 students who participated on the project. Ensuring that interviews and events were taped around such a large group’s collective responsibilities was not always easy. “We all pitched in and each of us was involved in as many shoots as we could,” said Kestler-D’Amours.
She credits Roxanne Hudon for being pivotal in driving the project forward. When Hudon returns from Europe, she’ll likely start promoting the distribution of the documentary. By then Kestler-D’Amours will have started her internship in Jerusalem at the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli project. She was also a finalist for the Canadian Association of Journalists/CNW Student Award of Excellence for a piece she did earlier in Downie’s class on missing Kahnawake resident Tiffany Morrison.