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Hot Docs 2011: ‘The Lumberfros’

The Lumberfros

Directed by Stéphanie Lanthier

2011, Canada, 71 mins.

If there is one thing the NFB does well, its showcasing parts of Canada and walks of life of which the rest of us are unaware. The Lumberfros neatly fits into this category – ‘lumberfro’ meaning someone of foreign origin working as a brush clearer in Quebec’s timber industry. The iconic Canadian lumberjack – or the parody we’re used to, anyway – is absent from this film. Instead, we have a handful of recent Canadians (in various states of immigration and from far-flung locals such as Romania and West Africa) performing gruelling work of thinning saplings on timber plots in order to give the hardier ones a chance to grow. Not quite the image we have of the Canadian wilderness, but the NFB does enjoy poking holes in stereotypes.

Director Stéphanie Lanthier adopts a contemplative pace, alternative between scenes of the lumberfros’ lifestyle – how they work, the way they travel, what a lumber camp is like – and interviews about the lumberfros themselves. We hear about how and why they chose to immigrate to Canada, what they think of the country, and how they expect their life to play out. This isn’t a figures-and-policy sort of social documentary – it is about individual stories and experiences.

Hot Docs has elected to include this film in it’s thematic grouping ‘Workers of the World!’, and while this certainly is a film about labour, it is not, like Marx’s oft-quoted appeal, a call to action. To be sure, Lanthier suggests that there is injustice in the course of her film, but she leaves the audience to identify it, and she does not propose a plan to deal with it. Her approach is an honest one, and it respects the audience. All things considered, it is the best approach to take.

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– Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8th.

Visit the official website for the festival.