By Jamie Hurcomb
What does it mean to engage a film go-oer into an active, rather than passive, viewing experience? Films, primarily, were meant to entertain, to distract, to act as a wonderful escape from reality. Documentaries, however, have a different goal says filmmaker Min Sook Lee- which is to inform, educate and use the power of story to incite broader social change. The viewer is invited to take an active stance as a potential initiator- to encourage and relay information learnt through documentary films (such as El Contrato) and be moved enough to want to act upon their affect. Min Sook wants her audience to answer the questions “what’s my accountability in all of this? how do I relate to this story?” in order to shift the subjective into the objective within her stories of migrant workers in Ontario.
Min Sook Lee presented her short film Migrant Dreams, a documentary about female migrant workers in Ontario. Themes like family, solidarity, love and womanhood immediately came to mind- an insightful portrayal into the working conditions of those who seek work in Ontario. It’s a vivid picture of exploitation, says Chris, a working partner sitting alongside Lee, it was made so people are aware of the situation happening in our backyard. Chris is right, we as Canadians it seems, almost refuse to acknowledge the shady, oppressive practices we enable especially when it comes to forge in workers. One could compare the situations of migrant workers in Ontario to a modern day colonialism or even slavery. Less than minimum wage, poor working conditions, exploitation and refusal of rights or dignities- all in our small province which is known for being “accepting, tolerant and pleasant”. It seems we are blind to the social implications of migrant workers because the companies who employ them are too caught up in the fantastic convenience. But does that make it acceptable? In no way.!
That’s why it is absolutely crucial that films like Migrant Dreams and El Contrato are made and distributed. To engage an audience in the seedy underbelly of a seemingly well-to-do small town company is an amazing feat. Min Sook Lee talks about the heavy repercussions of making an impactful doc, that they have the ability to incite change in government policy, legalities and national attention brought to a subject. When stories are suppressed, she claims, information is suppressed, it’s important to shed light on both in order to visualize experiences and give people space to resist and fight back. And in the fight, audience members and passive film go-ers may aid in the effort to create broader social change and learn to build power from systematic inequalities. And the best part? It could be as simple as an hour long movie they can watch from their own home. That’s the amazing power of the documentary film.