WEEK 3: 9th Floor

9th Floor 1hr 21mins

9th Floor, documentary by Mina Shum, tells the tale of past university students from the Caribbean who studied in Canada in the 1960’s, and their involvement in the 1969 Sir George Williams Riot, the largest student riot in Canadian history. The main subjects of the documentary played an integral role in the fight against racial intolerance and discrimination on campus, after a report made against a teacher, was acquitted. The story was told through a mixture of archival footage, interviews, instances of scripted and dramatic scenes.

What stood out to me most, was the choices that were made in regards to cinematography and mise-en-scene. The subjects were framed and set up as if they were incarcerated and being interrogated, with a recurring shot being set up from the perspective of a security camera, all of the subjects are seated in a single chair in the middle of a bare room, and another framing options followed a “peek-a-boo” approach, looking in from glass windows, through blinds, and behind objects in the foreground. Usually those who fight against racial injustice, and have major roles in leading riots for such causes, are regarded as heroes and people to look up to and regard in high esteem. However, the type of framing used portrayed them as felons, confessing about their “wrong doings” and printed a negative image of them. Clearly that was a director’s choice, and her vision was well executed and highly creative, however, I did not appreciate the style in which the subjects were portrayed, I believe they should be viewed as revolutionaries as opposed to trouble makers or rebels to society.

I was definitely impressed by the overall production value of the film. It was well edited, the settings and locations used were aesthetically pleasing, sound was not distracting and all these aspects of the film fell into place and worked great together for a well packaged overall production, Shum succeeded at making a documentary interesting and captivating for the audience. In regards to editing, a specific instance during the film occurred whereby several of the past students were relaying the exact same story, and editing was used to drive a message home by cutting to each student at the exact same parts of the story, and they were all saying the exact same thing or were along the lines of the same thing, solidifying a strong layer of credibility in the film. It was also evident that the topic was meticulously researched, and this was seen through the constant use of rare archival footage, newspaper articles and first-hand accounts from the students themselves about the trials they faced during that time. There was never a point in time where whatever was presented in the film was questioned in terms of validity, they were confident in their depiction of events and truthfully told the stories of the students. Also notable is that black students were not the only students interviewed but also white students who took a stand and fought for a cause that did not directly affect them. This formed a more balanced outlook on the situation at hand, gave the documentary a degree of objectivity, and removed biases that may have been formed if only Black students, those who experienced the brunt of the oppression, were the only ones interviewed.

All in all, 9th Floor executed what most documentaries attempt to do, inform about the topic at hand, and leave some form of emotional impact on the audience, and along with achieving these two goals, it was also shot in such a way that aided overall in keeping the audience fully engrossed in the story. While I may not agree with all the stylistic choices made by Shum, the story was still very well told.

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