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It was over a year ago that With Glowing Hearts (http://wghthemovie.ca/), a documentary about the W2 media project, celebrated it's premiere in the GoldCorp theater, a space in the Woodward's building funded by Canada's second largest gold mining company.
As an independent media maker active during the Olympics, I knew I had to watch the film, but it took me until just recently to work myself up to it. Finally, I sat down with Bineshii, a VMC contributor who both owns a DVD player and has choice words about the W2, to see what was up.
I want to make one thing really clear: this blog is a critique of the film With Glowing Hearts (WGH), and not the W2.
In sum, the W2 Media and Cultural House brings together a number of projects in one place. In a city where radical activists and artists lack space, it provides one in the downtown east side (DTES) - central and right where the action is. Its executive director Irwin Oostindie calls it a community media arts center, a place where different marginalized groups such as aboriginal youth that have no technology access can do exactly what they want in terms of media and arts.
As you can imagine, W2 is controversial, and difficult for many to speak openly about because of their own reliance on the space, because of friendships, or otherwise. Previous critiques of W2 are already in circulation and don’t want to keep at it. However, With Glowing Hearts becomes an embodiment of the space, and this is where the challenge lies.
The film begins with an introduction to quite a cast of characters. We have of course Oostindie, W2's Executive Director, who really wants to set up a cultural and media space in the new Woodwards building in order to take it back as a space for the DTES. In what Bineshii called true Kony2012-esque style, Oostindie talks for a good bit about his daughter and how he lives in the ‘hood to establish cred.
Oostindie is flanked by April - someone who made a name for herself in the DTES through AHA Media - and DTES activist Garvin Snider. These are two very hard-working people and their presence in the film makes it instantly easy to empathize with the project and very hard to question the film’s argument that the W2 was a final result of resistance to the Olympics. However, both activists have specific projects - respectively AHA Media and Megaphone Magazine - the latter of which is an old fashioned street newspaper - which, though linked to W2, are not the W2 itself.
And then there’s the rest of the cast, which can accurately be summed up in the following phrase: white dudes talking about social media and cultural bollocks. At one point I told Bineshii that I was actually having a difficult time distinguishing all of these dudes. “Yeah, these white social media douchebags all look the same,” she said, without hesitation.
So what the hell is WGH trying to say?
Well, there are doubtless some important stories. April tells us “I don’t want to be a stat” and how she feels seen when she is on Twitter, that she actually matters. Garvin invokes struggles such as those over Eagle Ridge Bluffs. Through their stories we are exposed to some really important issues, from the DTES to the outer areas of BC.
Interspersed into these are some of the most disturbing forms of technological determinism. Somewhere along the way, academic Andy Miah ponders whether or not we can celebrate the Olympic Games and critique them at the same time. Dave Olson from True North Media House talks about “owning the culture of the Olympics” as citizens (as a non-citizen I hate this nationalist crap) rather than letting corporations control it. Also featured are activists such as Alissa Westergard-Thorpe explaining the situation around poverty in Vancouver, and VMC contributor Lauren Gill speaking against the Olympics.
At about this point in the film, activist Garth Mullins talks to a crowd of protesters and mentions the title of the film, about how with glowing hearts the demonstrators are going to go out there and make a point. This was also the moment when Bineshii told me something I hadn't realized: With Glowing Hearts is part of the Canadian national anthem. That was nausea point for me. Cut in with these protest clips are video and pictures from the actual Games and celebrations as well.
So what does it mean to mix these dichotomous images of celebration and protest? A rewriting of history, and one that's rather smartly done. We see a space that is set up to both celebrate and protest the Olympics, and thereby bring everyone together.
And somewhere along the way, W2 and its affiliates' coverage is meant to bring social justice, or as April says, “help Vancouver become a better place.” No one specifies exactly how this will happen.
It was about halfway through the film that I realized that this social justice, this big win from fighting the Olympics, is actually the setup of the W2. I saw this as the tension built from when the City went back on its promise regarding how quickly W2 would be built and how much space would be allocated to it; at this point in the film Oostindie almost cries. Hence the W2 not only becomes the big win of the Woodward squats, but also of the Olympics (along with Canada winning the gold and people in the Olympic Tent Village getting housing).
The disturbing thing here is how social media can create its own self-fulfilling prophesy. If the idea is that the setup of a social media center was a victory, and that by being there the center has helped achieve social justice, then you can’t critique this cyclical process. You can however very clearly critique the kind of thinking that pushes this idea forward.
So there we are Vancouver activists and anyone else fighting colonialism and capitalism: this is how your fight is being re-told.
Don’t take it too personally though: the film goes into such detail about the each participant's media projects that, as Bineshii pointed out, the film itself becomes another deliverable and very little else.