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Letters to Prime Minister Harper

Many letters were sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Here is one from Sylvie Van Brabant, producer, and another from the writer director, Wajdi Mouawad.

Dear Mister Prime Minister,

It was with great pleasure that I read the Globe and Mail article revealing your interest for the arts. Like me, you studied piano and you must also know how important this is in the development of the individual. Playing piano is not only a meditative artistic experience but one that develops the brain of the child allowing her or him to deal better with complexity.

Like you, I did not become a pianist, even though I went through eight years of conservatory. I became a documentary filmmaker and producer.

With regards to the future of documentary filmmaking in Canada I would like to signal an important matter regarding some of your recent budget cuts. Your government handed a death call to a very important small program called the CIFVF, Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund. My film company has benefited several times from this fund. Without it certain films would not have even seen the day. These films have been used in universities, schools, parent organizations, NGOs, etc. plus viewed on television. It is a very important fund for creating valuable educational work – it is the only film and video fund that demands a strong commitment on the part of the producer assuring that the film will serve the public through community and educational screenings.

A film that I produced with the help of the FCFVI on the issue of teen violence and  drug addiction went on to do an important educational tour in youth reception centres across Quebec. We benefited from federal and provincial programs on the prevention of teen violence and drug use.

Like you I am very committed to proper spending. I run a small company that produces award winning films on very tight budgets. I am proud to say that we have never gone over a budget in our 24 years of experience.  We have also earned a strong reputation for our films. My associate, Serge Giguere, was just recently recognized in the 2008  Governor General Awards for media. I am sure that you understand what it is to work with a tight budget and this is certainly why your government made the recent cuts in the arts. I would like to insist however that this is a serious error on the part of your government.

I sincerely hope that you will reconsider this issue as soon as the elections are over. Education is highly important and now, more than ever, we need documentary filmmakers telling real human stories, allowing people to understand complex issues and help them find their bearings in these troubled chaotic times. It is also very important to deliver a message of hope to the public. This is what the films produced by my company do. If you had a chance to view the films funded by the CIFVF you would see that almost all their films do just that, allowing spectators to believe in the strength of the human soul.

I will end this letter with a quote from a famous French futurologist, Thierry Gaudin, who, with the help of strong scientific research, proves to us why education is so important.

“Et l’éducation peut faire évoluer l’espèce. En intervenant à l’âge où les comportements sont encore plastiques (l’homme fait preuve d’une plus grande néoténie que les animaux : ce phénomène se produit quand une espèce est placée dans des conditions de vie difficiles et s’apparente à ce que la psychanalyse appelle une régression : l’adulte conserve les caractères de l’enfant voire du fœtus, et parmi eux une grande plasticité), elle est en mesure d’inculquer des désirs nouveaux et mieux adaptés à son environnement.” (p.85)

I highly recommend his astounding book  2100, Odyssée de l’Espèce if you and your analysts have an interest in how to better prepare for the future.

SYLVIE VAN BRABANT
Director/producer
svb@rapideblanc.ca

Films du Rapide-Blanc
5768 Chabot
Montreal, Qc. H2G 2S7
Tel: 514-388-0482
Fax: 514-388-6845
www.rapideblanc.ca
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Here is the text of a letter from playwright Wajdi Mouwad to Prime
Minister Stpehen Harper. The translation below is thanks to John van Burek, and was sent to us by Dorothy Hénaut. http://www.thewreckingball.ca/

Original french version in Le Devoir, mercredi 27 août 2008
http://www.ledevoir.com/2008/08/27/203004.html
An open letter to Prime Minister Harper:

Monsieur le premier ministre,

We are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. You are
Prime Minister of the Parliament of Canada and I, across the way, am a writer, theatre director and Artistic Director of the French Theatre at the National Arts Centre (NAC). So, like you, I am an employee of the state, working for the Federal Government; in other words, we are colleagues.

Let me take advantage of this unique position, as one functionary to another, to chat with you about the elimination of some federal grants in the field of culture, something that your government recently undertook. Indeed, having followed this matter closely, I have arrived at a few conclusions that I would like to publicly share with you since, as I’m sure you will agree, this debate has become one of public interest.

The Symbolism

Firstly, it seems that you might benefit by surrounding yourself with counsellors who will be attentive to the symbolic aspects of your Government’s actions. I am sure you know this but there is no harm in reminding ourselves that every public action denotes not only what it is but what it symbolises. For example, a Prime Minister who chooses not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, claiming his schedule does not permit it, in no way reduces the symbolism which says that his absence might signify something else. This might signify that he wishes to denote that Canada supports the claims of Tibet. Or it might serve as a sign of protest over the way in which Beijing deals with human rights. If the Prime Minister insists that his absence is really just a matter of timing, whether he likes it or not, this will take on symbolic meaning that commits the entire country. The symbolism of a public gesture will always outweigh the technical explanations.

Declaration of war

Last week, your government reaffirmed its manner of governing unilaterally, this time on a domestic issue, in bringing about reductions in granting programs destined for the cultural sector. A mere matter of budgeting, you say, but one which sends shock waves throughout the cultural milieu –rightly or wrongly, as we shall see- for being seen as an expression of your contempt for that sector. The confusion with which your Ministers tried to justify those reductions and their refusal to make public the reports on the eliminated programs, only served to confirm the symbolic significance of that contempt. You have just declared war on the artists. Now, as one functionary to another, this is the second thing that I wanted to tell you: no government, in showing contempt for artists, has ever been able to survive. Not one. One can, of course, ignore them, corrupt them, seduce them, buy them, censor them, kill them, send them to camps, spy on them, but hold them in contempt, no. That is akin to rupturing the strange pact, made millennia ago, between art and politics.

Contempt

Art and politics both hate and envy one another; since time
immemorial, they detest each other and they are mutually attracted,
and it’s through this dynamic that many a political idea has been
born; it is in this dynamic that sometimes, great works of art see the
light of day. Your cultural politics, it must be said, provoke only a
profound consternation. Neither hate nor detestation, nor envy
nor attraction, nothing but numbness before the oppressive vacuum that
drives your policies.

This vacuum which lies between you and the artists of Canada, from a
symbolic point of view, signifies that your government, for however
long it lasts, will not witness either the birth of a political idea
or a masterwork, so firm is your apparent belief in the unworthiness
of that for which you show contempt.  Contempt is a subterranean
sentiment, being a mix of unassimilated jealousy and fear towards that
which we despise. Such governments have existed, but not lasted
because even the most detestable of governments cannot endure if it
hasn’t the courage to affirm what it actually is.

Why is this?
What are the reasons behind these reductions, which are cut from the
same cloth as those made last year on the majority of Canadian
embassies, who saw their cultural programming reduced, if not
eliminated?   The economies that you have made are ridiculously small
and the votes you might win with them have already been won. For what
reason, then, are you so bent on hurting the artists by denying them
some of their tools? What are you seeking to extinguish and to gain?

Your silence and your actions make one fear the worst for, in the end,
we are quite struck by the belief that this contempt, made eloquent by
your budget cuts, is very real and that you feel nothing but disgust
for these people, these artists, who spend their time by wasting it
and in spending the good taxpayers money, he who, rather than doing
uplifting work, can only toil.

And yet, I still cannot fathom your reasoning. Plenty of politicians,
for the past fifty years, have done all they could to depoliticise
art, to strip it of its symbolic import. They try the impossible, to
untie that knot which binds art to politics. And they almost
succeed! Whereas you, in the space of one week, have undone this work of
chloroforming, by awakening the cultural milieu, Francophone and
Anglophone, and from coast to coast. Even if politically speaking they
are marginal and negligible, one must never underestimate
intellectuals, never underestimate artists; don’t underestimate their
ability to do you harm.

A grain of sand is all-powerful I believe, my dear colleague, that you yourself have just planted the grain of sand that could derail the entire machine of your electoral campaign. Culture is, in fact, nothing but a grain of sand, but
therein lays its power, in its silent front. It operates in the dark.
That is its legitimate strength.

It is full of people who are incomprehensible but very adept with
words. They have voices. They know how to write, to paint, to dance,
to sculpt, to sing, and they won’t let up on you. Democratically
speaking, they seek to annihilate your policies. They will not give
up. How could they?

You must understand them: they have not had a clear and common purpose
for a very long time, for such a long time that they have no common
cause to defend. In one week, by not controlling the symbolic
importance of your actions, you have just given them passion, anger,
rage.

In the dark

The resistance that will begin today, and to which my letter is added,
is but a first manifestation of a movement that you yourself have set
in motion: an incalculable number of texts, speeches, acts,
assemblies, marches, will now be making themselves heard. They will
not be exhausted.

Some of these will, perhaps, following my letter, be weakened but
within each word, there will be a spark of rage, relit, and it is
precisely the addition of these tiny instances of fire that will shape
the grain of sand that you will never be able to
shake. This will not settle down, the pressure will not be diminished.
Monsieur le premier ministre, we are neighbours. We work across the
street from one another. There is nothing but the Cenotaph between our
offices, and this is as it should be because politics and art have
always mirrored one another, each on its own shore, each seeing itself
in the other, separated by that river where life and death are weighed
at every moment.

We have many things in common, but an artist, contrary to a
politician, has nothing to lose, because he or she does not make laws;
and if it is prime m inisters who change the world, it’s the artist
who will show this to the world. So do not attempt, through your
policies, to blind us, Monsieur le premier ministre; do not ignore
that reflection on the opposite shore, do not plunge us further into
the dark. Do not diminish us.

Wajdi Mouawad
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