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Action: The October Crisis of 1970

(Les Événements d’octobre 1970)

Year: 1973
Language: English
Format: 16mm Colour
Runtime: 87 min
Director: Robin Spry
Producer: Normand Cloutier, Tom Daly, Robin Spry
Writer: Robin Spry
Editor: Joan Henson, Shelagh MacKenzie
Sound: Bernard Bordeleau
Narration: Robin Spry
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada

Director Robin Spry, one of the most important documentary filmmakers at the National Film Board in the late sixties and early seventies, compiled Action: The October Crisis of 1970 from news footage and other actuality films. It is an often gripping account that details the events of the October Crisis, when Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) terrorists kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and killed Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.

Among the film’s central figures are Pierre Trudeau, René Lévesque, Robert Bourassa and Jean Drapeau. Their speeches, statements and examinations are interwoven with the kidnappings, the FLQ manifesto, the War Measures Act, the death of Laporte, the arrival of the Canadian army in Montreal and the debate over a nation’s suspended civil liberties. An attempt to capture and contextualize these events, the film also explores the rise of the separatist movement in Quebec following the death of Maurice Duplessis. It conveys the official version of the events of late 1970, but does not directly question the political motivations involved. The film ends at the end of 1970 with the arrest of Laporte’s alleged killers.

Made when the events were still reasonably fresh, the film was generally admired in English Canada as a "balanced" recreation of the crisis. Francophone Québécois (and a few critics in English Canada) found the film decidedly biased, offering little but the rhetoric of politicians to aid understanding. More widely revered in Quebec (and, for that matter, at the Canadian Film Awards and the Festival de Cannes) was Michel Brault’s Les Ordres (1974), a docudrama based on testimony by people detained without cause under the War Measures Act.

See also Action’s companion piece, Reaction: A Portrait of a Society in Crisis (1973).

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