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Media as insurgent art


photo courtesy of Smallman records (

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” —Bertolt Brecht

Jubilant Resistance: Propagandhi

For twenty years, Winnipeg’s secular hard rockers Propagandhi have offered a radical political perspective to fans of fast, aggressive music, and have been the catalyst for the radicalization of many young punks (myself included). Propagandhi uses music to express their frustration and rage against the unjust system into which we’ve all been born. Their lyrics speak straight to the heart of many young kids who feel disconnected from the reality presented by the popular media, and the music is unrelenting in its intensity.

By forgoing corporate support and paving their own path, the band has proven that you can make great music without compromising political principles. With Supporting Caste, the band’s fifth studio release since 1993, Propagandhi remain as committed as ever to making critical and purposeful art from the bad hand dealt by a rotten system.


“You can look at art and change in terms of integrity, using knowledge to activate and to truly try to change things,” says drummer Jord Samolesky. “We use [our band] as a vehicle to spread the word and encourage people to get involved in whatever they feel are their main convictions.” The tunes off Supporting Caste offer deep, personal reflections on the convictions that Propagandhi has been expressing for years. For Todd Kowalski, bass player and vocalist, working with refugees in Winnipeg’s downtown offers endless inspiration. “It’s hard to put those feelings into words,” Kowalski says. “But it’s always on my mind.”

In anticipation of the release of Supporting Caste, the band recently released two songs for download in exchange for a donation to three charitable organizations. Singer and guitarist Chris Hannah explains the group’s charitable choices: “Peta2 is currently the most effective potential gateway drug to an abolitionist animal-liberation perspective that is not merely anti-animal exploitation, but anti-capitalist, anti-sexist.” The band also chose fiery environmentalist Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd Society. “Less than one per cent of the planet’s living creatures live on land, so you’ll have to excuse Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Society for his bluntness when declaring his organization’s single-mindedness of defending the oceans,” Hannah adds. They also chose Partners in Health, a healthcare organization for the poor, which Hannah says is based on solidarity rather than charity alone. Propagandhi will deliver its message to European shores this spring, playing a May Day celebration in Prague before returning to play dates across Canada later in the summer and fall.

—Sheldon Birnie


Flow:// For the Love of Water offers a global perspective on all things water-related. This film documentary begins by analyzing the tap water we drink, cook with and clean with. The results are stomach-churning: pesticides, prescription drugs and jet fuel are just a few of the contaminants found in drinking water across America. Flow travels around our watery world, to rivers stained red from a nearby slaughterhouse in Bolivia, to streams teeming with raw sewage diverted by local authorities in India. This focus drives home the movie’s mantra that water is a basic human right that should be available to all. Scathing criticism is leveled against the World Bank and its World Water Council for forcing privatized water systems on countries around the world. The documentary also cries corruption at Loc Fauchon, president of the World Water Council, and other key players who have direct ties to water conglomerates that seek to privatize water in the world’s poorest countries.

A sense of urgency comparable to An Inconvenient Truth accompanies this film, but it doesn’t adequately address the impact climate change will have on world water issues — and specifically on the world’s largest water reserve: Canada. Back in the U.S, the doc exposes the bottled water industry for what it truly is: a snake-oil salesman that buys our tap water and sells it back to us.

view the flow trailer

—Aaron Zeghers

The Power to Imagine

Q&A with the Canadian Labour International Film Festival’s Frank Saptel

Dimension: How did CLiFF get started, and is there a need in Canada for more Worker/Artist productions like this?

Saptel: I came up with the idea for the festival, but many others are helping make it happen. What makes CLiFF stand out is that it was conceived as a national film festival — forty locations with over a hundred films! There is definitely a need for more worker- and artist-run festivals. More and more media is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. This represents not only power for corporate voices in getting their message out, but also a restriction for workers in telling our stories. More and more, the voice of workers needs to be heard. What better way to tell our stories than through film and video? When we start telling our own stories, we can only win! That’s the point of this festival.

CD: How are films chosen? What sort of films and topics can viewers expect, and who are the filmmakers?

FS: Our film-selection committee is currently gathering to discuss the films being screened. We’ve already received about forty-or-so films without putting a call out. CLiFF will present feature films and videos made by, for and about the world of work and those who do it — in Canada and internationally. We will be showing films about work and workers, and discussing issues raised by the films. That’s a national debate we hope will raise consciousness about our issues.

CD: How can viewers find out more, and what venues/dates will be screening these films?

FS: Toronto screenings will be from November 22 to 28, and across the country from November 28 to 29. Our website will be updated with screening times and venues.

—Chris Webb

This article appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension (Mayworks: A special issue celebrating and debating labour).


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