HISTORY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

PRODUCED, WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY NEAL LIVINGSTON, 1993 BASED ON THE BOOK BY TED JONES
 

BOTH SIDES OF THE WIRE

An hour long documentary which chronicles the experiences of Austrian and German refugees, the majority of whom were Jewish, that had come to England to escape Nazi oppression, only then to be deported and interned in Canada as "dangerous enemy aliens."

Early in the summer of 1940, with the Battle of Britain underway in the skies and the German army preparing for an invasion, the British government gave in to the xenophobia of the military and other influential groups, and ordered the arrest of all German and Austrian refugees. Many of these refugees were Jews, and thousands of them were shipped out of Britain that summer to be interned in P.O.W. camps in Canada and Australia. The Canadian government, with its restrictive refugee policy of that period, had agreed to accept prisoners of war. However when the first of these men arrived at Camp "B" in New Brunswick the Canadians quickly realized that they were not the Nazi P.O.W.'s they expected, but rather civilians refugees - students, professors, businessmen, and even priests and rabbis.

Though these internees from Camp "B" were technically treated humanely, they were held as prisoners in barb wire camps for up to three years. Their loyalty was constantly questioned and all aspects of their lives were restricted. The authorities preferred to let groundless fears determine their refugee policy, rather than face up to the reality that these men were being held for no reason. Despite overwhelming adverse conditions Camp "B" did manage to develop a remarkably rich cultural and intellectual atmosphere. These internees were able to persevere with determination and a surprisingly rich sense of humor. By the end 1943 all of these men were freed, although the process was usually made difficult by official foot-dragging, scarcely concealed anti-Semitism and a repressive refugee policy.

Both Sides Of The Wire is about a group of these former internees from Camp "B", as seen through who these men are today, and what they have done with their lives since this experience. Many have resettled in Canada, the U.S., and England where they have achieved prominence in the field of business, science, academia and the arts. Through intimate, and even entertaining portraits of these surviving internees, guards and others associated with the camp, as well as the use of private and public diaries and archive materials, this documentary evokes and assesses the effect this experience had on their later lives.

Both Sides Of The Wire explores what it means both physically and emotionally to be a refugee in this "a century of refugees", and how these men were able to thrive in a seemingly hostile environment.

An interest in history and social justice lead him to produce two films, which you can order on DVD like all others:

"One of the most amazing Canadian documentaries of the year is surely Both Sides of the Wire, a 47-minute account of life in a Canadian prisoner of war camp. But in this case the prisoners were not enemy soldiers, but refugees from Nazi Germany, many of them Jews.

"Filmmaker Neal Livingston has fashioned a compassionate and often sad story of how the refugees found themselves at a bleak camp deep in the New Brunswick Forest east of Fredericton."
        - Jim Bawden, Toronto Star, October 30, 1993.

​PRODUCED, WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY NEAL LIVINGSTON, 1992
 

MABOU FIGHTS BACK

In 1986 after the Canadian Government privatized the postal service, forming Canada Post Corporation it also gave blanket approval to their plan to systematically close 5000 rural post offices. This is one such communities response to this policy of giving corporate profitability priority to providing mandated services.

When it came time to announce the closing of the Mabou post office in Cape Breton Island in Eastern Canada back in March of 1991, it was viewed as a "natural opportunity" by Canada Post. Here was a rural community servicing 1,000 residents whose post master had retired a few years earlier and had never been replaced. It was merely a matter of giving notice and assuming that a local store would be willing to take over some of the retail operation.

It turned out that Mabou was not such a typical rural community. There is a particularly strong sense of heritage here, including the preservation of Scottish music and Gaelic culture. In the 1950's there was an influx of Dutch immigrants who brought modern commercial dairy farming to the area. Many households are self-employed in farming, fishing, business, tourism and the arts. The loss of the post office could be devastating to the local economy.

What was to be done? Rallies were held, petitions were signed, letters were sent and in general people organized. There was a town meeting where Canada Post brought in their public relations people to try to pacify the community, rather than to listen to any of their grievances. Instead they were clearly not prepared for the response from the people of Mabou who believe that their postal service was there to serve them not just to make the maximum profit. Despite the fact that the community was supposedly powerless against the Canada Post Corporation, they did manage to work out a compromise after their efforts had generated both national attention and overwhelming support for their protest. Their post office building would not be sold and instead they would be allowed to run it themselves with a community owned, operated and financed corporation.

Though in the end there is a victory of sorts, Mabou Fights Back raises many fundamental questions. Is profitability a greater priority than national unity? What about the economic needs of Canada Post versus those of the rural communities it is suppose to serve? Finally, in a democracy what real options do people have in making themselves heard. How does the system really work, and for whom?

"An important piece of recent history has been documented by Black River filmmaker Neal Livingston with the release of Mabou Fight's Back. (the film) is the record of one village's refusal to quietly accept Canada Post's arrogant attitude towards its rural responsibilities. With a blend of narration, interviews and recorded encounters between the people of Mabou and Canada Post representatives, Livingston's film captures a proud moment in the life of Mabou."
- Frank MacDonald, The Inverness Oran, May 6, 1992.