THE TAKE directed by Avi Lewis, written by Naomi Klein, screening Saturday (April 24) at 7 pm as part of Hot Docs. See listings below. 84 minutes. NNNN Rating: NNNN
Avi Lewis and I are ensconced on the threadbare couch at the back of the Tequila Mockingbird on Queen West. It's a favourite hangout for Lewis and his wife and co-creator of The Take, activist Naomi Klein. The movie tracks the police crackdown on the occupied Bruckman textile factory in Buenos Aires. Lewis is talking about the moment during shooting when what he calls their privileged little filmmaking-in-another-country universe was shattered.
He'd received news on his cell phone that Robin, his crew's second camera operator, had fallen from a fire escape and hurt her head. He and Klein had to run back through clouds of tear gas toward police who were firing into the crowd.
"Things got real for all of us at that point," he says. "We realized that we were following something hopeful and inspiring, but it's hopeful and inspiring because it directly challenges the most powerful forces in society.
"And they don't fuck around."
He talks in a hyper-articulate stream, swinging with seamless fluency from one idea to the next. At one point, with profuse apologies, he takes a call on his cellphone.
The cute blond next to us leans over from her perch on her boyfriend's lap and asks who he is. I tell her. She nods. "He's cool."
So's the revolution, as represented by The Take. Or maybe cool is the wrong word; maybe a better word is moving.
The IMF, in concert with Argentine president Carlos Menem, sucks the Argentine economy dry; CEOs start bailing out, skipping town without a goodbye or a severance cheque.
Then the workers get the factories running again - without bosses - and produce cheaper and better goods. Now, tell me that isn't a stirring story.
The filmmaking is good, too. It avoids the talking-head/demo-porn pitfalls of many activist documentaries, cleaving instead to a few central characters and an intelligible storyline.
Lewis says 15 years of making political debates work on TV didn't make his directorial debut any easier.
"At first I thought that having to follow characters and choose one person was bogus, just an arbitrary reduction of social movements."
Seven torturous months of editing later, he was converted.
"To be able to really feel those complex emotions with the characters is a key to a more complex politics."
The original intent of The Take was to find a place where people were really building an alternative to corporate capitalism. Their quest took them to southern Brazil and South Africa. They were looking for what Klein calls "the new impatience." They settled on Argentina after a trip there only a few weeks after the December uprisings. They were fascinated by the neighbourhood assemblies that were filling the void left by the collapsing government.
After a year back in Canada raising money, they returned, but the political scene had changed. The government was offering the middle class bonds in exchange for the savings they'd been locked out of, and many of them had turned their backs on the new politics.
"But not all of them. And there was something that happened in that period that had a transformative effect on Argentina. Because of the global networks of communication, it could have a transformative effect on the activist scene around the world."
Case in point: an Argentinian crew member from The Take wrote a book about the occupations that a Scandinavian activist friend is currently translating into Swedish for some workers at risk of layoffs there.
And shortly after shooting the film, Lewis got an e-mail from a friend informing him that Alcan had closed an aluminum smelter in Jonquière, Quebec, cutting 550 jobs. The workers took over the plant and sold $2.1 million worth of aluminum in their first 10 days. Productivity went through the roof.
"They didn't get this idea out of the blue. I'm convinced that they got it straight from Argentina."
The CAW were so intrigued by the film that they contributed financially to its completion. Lewis thinks the union may have learned a thing or two from the Argentinians. "They're the kings of the factory occupation, but they've never done one where they kept the machines going.
"I want to show this in every union hall and church basement in Canada. I want to go to towns where factories are closing and show this, just for morale."