By James Keller
What results from belief and passion without understanding? A whole lot of well-meant but counterproductive activity. View From The Summit succeeded, perhaps unwittingly, in exposing the central failing of the modern protest movement.
Shot by a handful of documentary filmmakers in three different languages, the film offers a fleeting yet telling glimpse of the events at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last April. It illustrates the bulk of the protestors in a festival-like atmosphere, celebrating their beliefs. It illustrates a handful of Summit delegates discussing how to reconcile democracy with trade. And it illustrates how a handful of militants, focusing on Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles and Jaggi Singh, exploited the uninformed masses and undermined what either side was attempting to accomplish.
View From The Summit cleverly highlights the many similarities between what those on both sides of the fence wish to achieve. At one point, a Summit delegate marches with the protestors, having civil discussion and debate with them over the merits and the nature of free trade. However, it also shows how the intelligence and dialogue that can be used as a constructive tool is rendered meaningless by people like Singh and his cronies.
I am not a person who shares many of the views of those who marched in Quebec City, however I have the utmost respect for those who intelligently express their objections with the status quo. View From The Summit does a great job illustrating the intelligence on both sides of the free trade debate while showing the disruptive, violent and provocative behaviour of the beligerent minority that overshadowed anything worth witnessing. It is an excellent study on the stupidity of the few and how, in Quebec, it silenced voices that needed to be heard.
Make no mistake, View from the Summit is not a documentary about the Summit of the Americas, held in 2001 amid both violence and controversy in Quebec city to discuss free trade. It isn’t about globalization, for or against, and it isn’t about police brutality, government subversion or attacks on democracy, like This is What Democracy Looks Like’s look at the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle the year prior.
Instead, View from the Summit, an new National Film Board documentary by a host of directors including Paul Lapointe and Philippe Falardeau, is about protest: who did it, what their goals were, how the police prepared and reacted and what were the reactions by academics and political figures.
The film follows a number of very different protest groups, namely salAMI, lead by Philippe Duhamel, and Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles, represented by Tania Hallé. We see how these groups prepare, listen to them describe their motives and tactics-a drastic contrast with salAMI’s strictly peaceful philosophy and CARCS’ willingness to use violence if necessary-and how they interact, which, at times, becomes very abrasive as their philosophies of dissent clash. We are show how the city police deal with the emminent conflict, both through riot training and hearing them talk about-and seeing them employ-a philosophy that genuinely respects the rights and space of non-violent protestors.
While a documentary about the Free Trade Area of Americas this film is not, it does attempt to provide a fairly balanced, multi-sided look at the protest movement, at least in the context of Quebec city. Not falling too far to the left as other works have done before, View from the Summit is an interesting, well-crafted approach to protest documentary.