Yesterday we caught three political docs at Hot Docs, and before I race off to The Law In These Parts, here is the first of more micro-reviews.
We Are Wisconsin, directed by Aimee Williams, is the first film I’ve seen at the festival that champions activism and calls on the audience to join in the fight, while offering a jumping-in point that so few other docs this year have been able to provide. The doc follows the Madison, Wisconsin uprising against Scott Walker and the legislature, after pro-labour and social-political activists learn of a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining powers and cut union pensions in the state. A trickle of peaceful student protestors at the Capitol soon turns into a tidal wave of popular support as all factions (even some Republican supporters!) of society turn up to have their voices heard.
At the forefront of the ensuing one-month occupation of the Capitol are students, teachers and service worker employees, and the subjects in the film represent this spread, and through their convictions, passion to resist, and transformations from voters to active members of their community, an inspiring direct action narrative unfolds. Of particular interest, to me at least, was the police officer subject who chooses, with 250 other police members of his union, to join the protests, despite the fact that their union has been exempted from the proposed legislation.
For a film that is almost entirely made up visuals of protest and occupation, WAW has more moments of levity than it does moments of despondency, and dare I say it is more inflected with hope than hopelessness, even while the movement fails in quashing the bill (which is pushed through by cynical, self-interested rightwing politicians at the last moment). It is ultimately a positive film because it celebrates and promotes direct action activism and protest, and shows that it’s not the scary kids you see misrepresented on the corporate news channels that are out on the streets fighting for progressive social change — it’s every demographic of society.
WAW captures a moment of community spirit that is so infectious I almost wanted to occupy the cinema when the film ended, but succumbed instead to a very enthusiastic standing ovation inside Toronto’s Isabelle Bader Theatre. The film is magnificently shot and doesn’t miss a beat with building the narrative to a crescendo and keeping the active pulse alive even after the initial defeat in the Capitol.
Ultimately WAW is a film for both committed activists and on-the-fence mainstream audience members, and if it doesn’t reaffirm your convictions to get out and challenge corporate and state oppressive powers, it will surely convince you that testing the protest waters and meeting other members of your community can’t be a bad thing to do at all.