NINTH FLOOR (2015)
Dir. Mina Shum
Review By Greg Klymkiw
There's much about Canada that's wonderful and has earned the country a reputation worldwide as a paradise of caring, culture and tolerance. Führer Stevie Harper eroded that view, but in spite of his evil and his fascist government presiding over us for far too long, there is still much about Canada that remains wonderful. Even that fact, though, is a bit of a smokescreen.
In reality - Harper or not - Canada can be downright creepy. It's a country where the War Measures Act was applied against its own citizens and treated innocent people like criminals and terrorists. It's a country where the military has repeatedly been used to bully our indigenous people when they've even moderately protested exploitation at the hands of big business and government. "The Fruit Machine", anyone? This All-Canadian invention was used to identify homosexuals in the civil service and provide the necessary grounds to turf them.
What's creepy about Canada is just how sneaky, nastily backstabbing and "polite" it is when it chooses to fuck people over. A Canadian is just as likely to spit in your face, then immediately apologize for soiling you with their sputum. Because of the country's mask of benevolence, it makes them very good spies, infiltrators and deceivers.
In 1969, one of the most horrendous examples of this Canadian creepiness was perpetrated in Montreal. Its effects resonate to this very day - even though MOST Canadians do not know, care and/or do not remember the events which precipitated a justifiable act of civil disobedience - one in which its participants brought institutional racism in academia to the attention of the world.
Thankfully, the National Film Board of Canada (an equally creepy government agency with its own fair share of blood on its hands - Arthur Lipsett, anyone?) has allowed Mina Shum (Double Happiness) one of Canada's finest filmmakers the opportunity to bring the aforementioned events of 1969 to light in the powerful, superbly crafted Ninth Floor.
In the shadow of Canada's Expo '67 in Montreal, an international celebration of multicultural achievements, a group of Black students enrolled in Sir George Williams University were shocked to learn that their Biology professor was intentionally grading them at far lower levels than the White students. Though he was charged with racism, the university's administration pretty much did nothing about it. The students had only one choice - to take matters into their own hands. They occupied the ninth floor computer lab and brought this shameful incident to the attention of the world - not, however, without consequences and most certainly not without scary police-state-like machinations.
Shum brilliantly uses archival footage, current interviews and effective re-enactments to piece together this story fraught with the sheer evil of Canada's oh-so subtle and, uh, creepy, surveillance. Further presenting the aforementioned materials through the eyes of surveillance cameras adds immeasurably to the creep factor.
Ninth Floor might well be a documentary, but its sizzling storytelling and mise-en-scene places it squarely in the tradition of such brilliant 70s thrillers of paranoia like Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View and Haskell Wexler's immortal Medium Cool. In addition to being creepy and often downright chilling, Shum also infuses the picture with considerable humanity and emotion, placing her work squarely in the tradition of Michel Brault's Les Ordres, the astounding dramatic expose of the War Measures Act during the FLQ crisis.
Canadians are especially good at following orders. They're nice, polite bureaucrats who have borrowed from the centuries-old history of British Colonialism, espionage and backstabbing. Shum rightly provides justification for the civil disobedience in the film and canonizes those who fought against one of the most insidious evils in the world.
Canada has always been a world leader at masking hatred against its citizens. Shum's film harrowingly and effectively lifts the veil upon one of this country's most shameful acts of terror and subterfuge.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars
Ninth Floor enjoys its World Premiere in TIFF DOCS at TIFF 2015.