The Community Communications Centre functioned as an outreach centre rather than an institute, remaining autonomous from the college, but operating out of a trailer shared with other college facilities. Credit: Management Committee File, CCC, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Archives, Surrey.
"Show one story on the front page of the year that you can say relates to something that happened in one classroom…on this campus!” Credit: Still from Save our Farmland video, STEP 1 Program, ¾ inch cassette, R/G15 Accession No. 86-5, Box 1Kwantlen Polytechnic University Archives, Surrey.
CFC Surrey Project animators Norma Taite and Jim Gillis discuss Bridgeview and other community issues on a demonstration tape made to request further funding for the Community Communications Centre in the late seventies. Credit: This image and the next one from CCC Demo #1, ¾ inch cassette, R/G15 Accession No. 86-5, Box 1. Kwantlen Polytechnic Library Archives.
CFC Surrey Project animator Jim Sellers discusses Surrey land use issues with his colleagues.
[Sound of toilet flushing] “Is our Farmland going down the drain?” Opening salvo of a process video to save BC’s agricultural land by preventing developers from removing parcels from the ALR. This was shown during the Satellite Tele-Education Program experiment to deliver education via satellite in B.C. Credit: This and following images from STEP 1 NFB Step (Part 1) Record Date: 15/12/1977, ¾ inch cassette, R/G15 Accession No. 86-5, Box 1. Kwantlen Polytechnic Library Archives.
Where appropriate, Surrey Project animators used media other than film and video to work toward community goals. Cover of a handbook designed to help the average citizen prevent nearby land from being removed from the ALR by others seeking to make a profit. The small image of B.C. in the middle of the larger outline of the province represents the percentage of land appropriate for agriculture in B.C.
In Some People Have to Suffer, contaminated effluent seeps into the rainwater in ditches fronting the houses of Bridgeview.
“Let’s say we have put about $16,000 just on material in this place, because we did most of the work ourselves… and they tell us our property is worth about $400 in assessment.” The Wittenbergs discuss the forced devaluation of their property.
Social Animators videotaped Bridgeview Committee meetings to keep track of developments over the several years the sewering issue was in contention. The footage was later used by Pinney for Some People.
The role of social animators was made visible in Challenge for Change films like VTR St Jacques. Here social animators are shown videotaping interviews with local residents in Montreal.
But in Some People social animators are not shown; instead we see a community already trained and active in the pursuit of their goals, as in this shot, where Bridgeview residents challenge the mayor and aldermen at a packed council meeting.
In Some People, the camera is turned on the bureaucrats as they are made to confess their implication in Bridgeview’s land woes.
Self-styled working-class hero Alderman Ed McKitka wonders what his fellow council-members have to offer the city of Surrey.
While Pinney’s film Some People Have to Suffer is the only public artifact surviving the formal presence of the Challenge for Change program in Surrey between 1973 and 1976, in fact the Surrey Project had a much more comprehensive impact. And it endured much longer than might have been expected given the conservative turn taken by provincial politics as the seventies faded into the corporate eighties. This was owed in part to how the project was initially set up, through a partnership with the newly established, multi-campus Douglas College, as well as to how the social animators integrated the NFB’s mandate into the ethos of community development that they already embraced. The project’s first objective was to establish a “Community Communications Centre,” to be housed in one of the temporary trailers that served as classrooms and administrative buildings on the new campus. Reluctant at first to make a commitment, the College Board members were invited to a presentation by geography professor Jim Sellers, who would soon be hired as a social animator:
If Douglas College was to function truly as a “classroom without walls,” to “make sure the living rooms of the community are the classrooms of the college,” Sellers argued that the NFB Challenge for Change process, “a really important way of democratizing learning,” could be used as a tool to achieve that goal (Driscoll and Sellers, March, 2010).
The Community Communications Center served as a headquarters from which the Surrey Project animators offered workshops in how to use the new Sony VTR Port-a-pak technology, edited half-inch videotapes they had taken, and helped citizens strategize about how best to bring attention to the issues that most concerned them. With generous funding from the Provincial government (Victoria committed $29,000 to the project in June of 1974, for instance), Pinney hired local personnel to work as social animators for the program. In addition to Sellers, former air charter entrepreneur Jim Gillis was brought on board primarily for his skills at gaining the confidence of the business-minded mayor and council members. Gillis recalls being shown a video camera for the first time, with its cutting-edge capacity to play back a scene that had just been recorded, and recognizing its value as a “marketing” tool for selling a citizen-based point of view to decision makers in government. From his perspective as a businessman mediating between residents and policy-makers who might be at odds over the details and desirability of industrial development, deploying video was a matter of “selling” a position on a given issue. Gillis helped hire Norma Taite, an artist who with her husband Ted was building a house in South Surrey and was looking for a way to become more involved in her community. Gillis, Taite, and Sellers continued with the program until well after the NFB pulled out and Chris Pinney returned East. After 1976, the activities of the Community Communications Centre expanded to include some of the Douglas College campuses in other municipalities, and another animator, David Driscoll, was hired from the college faculty.
The social animators kept abreast of local land use issues by combing the local newspapers, attending all municipal council meetings, and showing up at the meetings of local citizens’ groups. Their Community Communications Centre quickly gained public visibility, so that citizens began to show up at the trailer asking for assistance. There was almost no locality in the 122 square mile municipality where the Surrey Project was not in some way involved.
Local initiatives included helping residents form a co-op to take over their “poorly maintained and managed apartment” building—but also to make a video of the process to share their experience with tenants in another part of the municipality, and to bring it to City Hall in an effort to “get a bylaw passed that [would] ensure the proper maintenance of apartment buildings in Surrey” (Pinney, Report, August 1975).
In the Big Bend and Port Kells areas, both bordering the Fraser River, the CFC animators helped local residents make concise videos addressing proposals for landfill, oil refinery, and industrial parks in the area. As one report noted:
These industrial proposals were a clear example of the sort of “service” role Vancouver sought to assign to Surrey and other municipalities south of the Fraser River, as the GVRD plan took shape. As a result of several citizen-based presentations about the area, the council was persuaded to oppose the sanitary landfill, though industrial development along the foreshore remained a bone of contention for years to come.
On another front, Surrey Project animators helped citizens’ delegations prepare media briefs to persuade council to avert a proposed petro-chemical plant in the Hazelmere Valley, in South Surrey. By this time, the social animators were providing closed-circuit television coverage of the council meetings for the crowds of residents unable to pack into the chambers (Pinney, Report, June/July 1975). This led, eventually, to coverage of council meetings for local cable television. Indeed, compelling the local cable stations to adhere to the Canadian Radio-Television Commission’s mandate to provide public access to the airwaves was another of the Surrey Project’s successful campaigns.
Pinney also participated in the Satellite Tele-Education Program (S.T.E.P.), a pioneering effort to deliver college education via satellite, bringing together social animators around the province to broadcast some of the process videos made under the auspices of the CFC. Programming included clips from Some People Have to Suffer (as an example of community planning); and two slide-show videos (videotaped still images accompanied by music and voiceover), one about attempts to save the Seven Sister’s mountain range from being heavily logged and the other about the importance of preserving agricultural areas in B.C., with tips on how to prevent parcels of farmland from being sold and developed. Broadcasts of the film and process videos were followed by call-in sessions, during which residents from far-flung corners of the province talked with Pinney and other animators in the studio.
Despite the CFC program’s origins with the National Film Board, if a form of media other than moving images seemed more effective, then social animators did not hesitate to develop it in aid of the citizens who sought their assistance. This was true of a pamphlet they designed to arm the ordinary citizen against developers (and the politicians who catered to them) who had figured out how to exploit the loopholes in the Agricultural Land Reserve. As soon as the Act was passed, recalls David Driscoll, “it was immediately assailed by the development industry, and continues to be assailed by development industry:” applications for exemptions flooded the Land Commission, as various parties sought to redevelop farmland for profit motives. Perceiving that only informed citizens could counter this manipulation of the Land Commission’s aims, the Community Communications Center produced and distributed “Preserving Agricultural Land: Guidelines for Action,” a ten-page handbook outlining how the average citizen might participate in the protection of endangered agricultural land in their jurisdiction. The flyer opened with a list of the kinds of parties “applying to have the land removed from the ALR”: the developer, the speculator, the government (from municipal right up to federal and crown corporations), and the farmer. “By the time the average citizen has become aware that land may be taken out of the Agricultural Land Reserve” the pamphlet warned, developers and speculators will have already contacted local government, and started the wheels rolling even before the issue is raised at a regular council meeting. With the backing of the local council (often eager to benefit from perceived gains to be made by commercial or industrial development of a tract of farmland) the case is then taken to the Land Commission, “and now it is public,” the handbook remarks.
The pamphlet offered clear advice about how to anticipate the various tactics developers might use to convince authorities that removing farmland from the ALR will be for the “public good,” “even if the prime motivating factor is private profit.” The citizen was advised to
Readers of the pamphlet were even coached in Saul Alinsky-style strategies for winning their political battle: being prepared to anticipate the opposition’s arguments, learning not to stray from the central issue, and knowing what traits make a “skilled spokesperson” for their cause.
Some People Have to Suffer
One of the most complex land use problems to have been mediated by the Surrey Project was that documented in Pinney’s film Some People Have to Suffer. While the social animators consider this film to be “only the tip of the iceberg” where their work in Surrey was concerned, it nevertheless serves as a kind of paradigmatic example of how the local council operated, and what any citizen-based movement was up against.
In the early years of its establishment as a residential neighborhood, because of its proximity to the riverfront, Bridgeview was considered to be a desirable place to homestead. But by the 1950s, its attractiveness had declined, in part because it had become encircled by industry, in part because it lacked the sewer systems that had been provided to other residential areas throughout the municipality. Because of the boggy ground along the river’s edge, residents’ original septic tanks began to fail, causing contaminated effluent to seep into the rainwater run-off ditches that fronted their ranch style houses and bungalows. Indeed, as Jim Sellers puts it, the city assured
Council had promised to provide sewers in the fifties, but delayed for over twenty years, and so it was that by the time the Challenge for Change Program arrived, the Bridgeview residents, still with the same leaky septic tanks, found themselves on the verge of eviction from their own homes, homes into which many had sunk their life’s savings.
The Surrey Project worked closely with two of Bridgeview’s community leaders, Otto Wittenberg and Alice Wilcox, who featured in Pinney’s film about the neighborhood’s struggle. Over three years, Norma Taite, Jim Gillis, and Jim Sellers attended and videotaped Bridgeview committee meetings, council meetings, and a crucial meeting with representatives from the Provincial Government. Meanwhile, Chris Pinney and his staff filmed formal interviews (in color 16mm) with residents, Surrey administrative officials, Mayor Vander Zalm and some of the aldermen. By 1976, as the NFB was preparing to hand off the Community Communications Centre to Douglas College and its local administrators, Pinney completed the film, just in time to screen it at the UN Habitat for Humanity Conference being held in Vancouver that summer. After viewing the film, Pinney recalls, conferees were invited to take an hour’s bus ride to visit the rat-infested ditches of Bridgeview in person, and bear witness to the embarrassing fact that the “third world” that Habitat had been discussing, as though it were half a globe away, could be found only twenty miles from the conference site (Conversation with Pinney, 12/18/2009).
Like two other films made under the auspices of the Challenge for Change program, Some People Have to Suffer served to showcase some of the process video footage that was generated by social animators and their constituencies. VTR St Jacques (Bonnie Klein, 1969) and VTR Rosedale (Len Chatwin, 1974) each depict the presence of social animators in an economically depressed area (an impoverished district of Montreal and an ailing Alberta mining community, respectively), detailing how they organized and shot footage of meetings at which local residents identified their most pressing problems, how these same residents were trained to use the VTR equipment, and how this citizen-produced footage functioned to bring about significant change in the area. The agency of the CFC social animators is obvious in these short films—we can see how their intervention played a role in changing the local citizens’ sense of their power as a political group, and their growing control over decision-making processes that would affect their lives.
In the case of Some People, however, Pinney focused on the drama as it unfolded among the Bridgeview residents, elected officials, and Surrey planning administrators such as the town manager, the industrial planner, and the municipal engineer. Jim Gillis, Norma Taite, and Jim Sellers worked behind the scenes,
When the municipal and provincial governments disagreed about how
But it would appear that Pinney made the decision to foreground the battle between city officials and the citizens themselves, rather than the mediating role of the Surrey Project. As a result, Taite, Sellers, and Gillis are not depicted in the film, either in their organizing capacity or in their role as media instructors. We see instead a community already trained and active in the pursuit of their goals, challenging the local bureaucrats to bring about long overdue changes to their physical environment. This narrative has two consequences. First, it means that viewers of the film get no glimpse of the local social animators in action, and thus no sense of the methodological process by which the Challenge for Change program made a difference in what unfolded during the mid-seventies in this neighborhood that typified how land use conflicts intersected with class struggles. But it also means that the residents themselves are not shown in an epistemologically inferior position vis-à-vis the NFB and its agents, in need of guidance and direction. Rather, if anything, the camera is turned on the bureaucrats as they are made to “confess” (directly or indirectly) their own implication in Bridgeview’s land use woes.
Concerned no doubt to construct a coherent narrative out of a complex, many-faceted political situation that had unfolded over a long period of time, Pinney structured the film fairly conventionally, opening with an aerial shot to establish Bridgeview’s geographical locale, and following with talking heads, video documentary footage of council and committee meetings during which the protagonists and their antagonists are shown in conflict with each other, and descriptive color sequences illustrating the land under contestation, houses in need of repair, overflowing ditches, proximity to the river, and industrial encroachment.
Boyce Richardson, an NFB documentarist in his own right, provides a voiceover that functions less like the kind of “voice-of-god” narration that had fallen into disfavor by this era of verité-style filmmaking, and more like the discursive mortar that holds the disparate building-blocks of the film together. Insofar as Some People was intended as a kind of “animator” film—that is, a tool not so much of instruction as of instigation—Richardson’s voice extends matter-of-fact advice for the would-be citizen activist. Besides offering vocal “establishing shots” and economically filling in backstory details through an audio-montage, it describes the developing strategies of the citizens as they press forward with their demands, and provides suggestive hints about how the viewer might follow suit. It also functions as an ironic bridge, linking something said in an interview to a wryly chosen successive shot—as when, for example, Mayor Vander Zalm ponders whether the Bridgeview area might be better suited to “other purposes,” after which Richardson informs us that “other purposes turned out to be industry” as we transition from the Mayor’s rosy-cheeked face to the iconic shot of a bulldozer dredging mud up at the river’s edge. Generally, the voiceover supplies a kind of present pluperfect, from which the complex series of unfolding events and interviews can be narrativized.
The Mayor and council members are introduced by one of the aldermen, self-styled working-class hero Ed McKitka who opens with the pronouncement that Surrey is a “two hundred million a year” business. Although he doesn’t object to “everyone getting involved,” he wonders what his fellow council-members, themselves businessmen, have to contribute. As the film unfolds, it would seem, indeed, as if these “small town politicians” (in the words of the voiceover) conform fairly closely to the picture given by Molotch of the “special sort of person” who becomes “involved” in government “for reasons of land business and related processes of resource distribution.” What is extraordinary about the film is how deftly Pinney, with the behind-the-scenes help of his social animators, brings into public discourse what Vander Zalm and his colleagues might have wished to remain hidden—or at least neglected long enough that eventually the neighborhood in Bridgeview would deteriorate to the point that residents would be forced (because of health issues) to evacuate, leaving the district to be completely industrialized.