Carré Rouge Sur Fond Noir has few police cars burning or pots being banged. Instead, the documentary takes us inside the world of those stirring the pot—the student organizers of CLASSE. When filmmakers Santiago Bertolino and Hugo Samson set out to follow five members of CLASSE, they had no idea that the 2012 student strike and resulting political crisis would become a defining moment in contemporary Quebec history—toppling a government and bringing young and old into the streets. It’s a story that was told very differently by the mainstream and indie news media.
“The moment you create a frame, when you choose what to film or what sound to record, it’s subjective, it’s a choice,” says Samson. No media is neutral or objective, whether it’s the news media or a documentary. Yet, despite the filmmakers’ interest in social movements and sympathy for the cause, Carré Rouge Sur Fond Noir is a surprisingly objective, in a fly-on-the-wall kind of way, documentary that is focused less on the explosive events of the protests and more on the process. There’s no riot porn, just people engaged in the messy, often exhausting, process of direct democracy.
“We didn’t want to indulge in a romanticization of the strike, we had to maintain a certain distance and pragmatism so as not to fall into an idealization; that’s not what we wanted to do,” explains Samson. “We wanted to show the range of ideologies, ideas and expressions that there can be inside a movement.”
Carré Rouge achieves just that, giving us an inside look at the long hours, lengthy discussions and often tedious, yes tedious, hard work that’s a part of building a movement from the ground up and an integral part of all forms of engaged democracy. Accustomed as we are to the grandstanding shenanigans and ego-inflation of professional politicians, the maturity, respect and tolerance for difference we see during the student assemblies and discussions captured by the filmmakers is both inspiring and refreshing.
“We captured things at the moment they happened, we wanted to show people as they are naturally,” says Bertolino. “Of course we have a point of view as auteurs and we filmed it from the inside but we wanted to take more of a sociological perspective and let people make up their own minds—the idea wasn’t to convince people to be for or against the strike. We wanted to show the students’ sincerity because, for better or worse, most journalists couldn’t get access to the general assemblies.”
Carré Rouge offers exactly that, an inside look into the organization of a movement that has often been presented (and misrepresented) by the mainstream media as being a tantrum thrown by violent, spoiled babies and romanticized by the passionate subjectivity of artists and activists. Carré Rouge may not inflame the passions like riot porn or the clichés of revolution à la music videos but it’s an important documenting of the reality of how the student strike and protests evolved, and the very real people behind the headlines.