National Film Board of Canada
For centuries, Quebec was essentially under the control of the Catholic Church and English Canada (first British colonial rule, and then the primarily English federal Government of Canada). Beginning in the early-1950s, the social climate changed in the province, and the Quiet Revolution began to undermine the power held by the French political bosses that were friendly to English buisiness interests and to the church. The events that set this cultural revolution in motion included the emergence of the surrealist-inflected avant-garde art movement Les Automatistes and the publication of their radical manifesto Refus Global, and the "Richard Riot" that errupted at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game on March 17, 1955 (see footage of the riot on the Canadiens Website). The slow revolution put in motion by such events built over the next two decades, leading to increasing unionization among Quebec laborers, the election of socialistic politicians, and by the late 1960s, to the formation of an intensely radical organization fighting for Quebec nationalism called the Front Du Liberation du Quebec (FLQ).
Robin Spry’s (a late NFB filmmaker whose early work focused on Canadian social issues) documentary film, Action: The October Crisis of 1970, focuses on the political discourse that revolved around the most intense period of FLQ activity. During that month, the FLQ took two men, British Trade Commissioner James Cross, and Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte, and held them for ransome for the purpose of advancing their cause of Quebec liberation from English Canada. These events provoked a response from the Federal government, then led by Pierre Trudeau, that has been controversial ever since, namely the evocation of the War Measures Act. This clampdown on civil liberties legitimated by the Act has been represented in Spry’s documentary (and elsewhere) by Trudeau’s “just watch me” speech where the Prime Minister spoke casually to CBC journalist Tim Ralfe about the need to reduce freedom for the sake of public safety. The scenario is explicitly ironic as Trudeau appears unprotected on an Ottawa street, calling for an increase in military presence in Quebec for the purpose of restricting individual mobility.
Otherwise, FLQ members appear mostly as still shots when the narration refers to them, a number of Quebec/Canadian political figures appear as interview subjects, while the FLQ members are the mostly absent referent around which those politicians orient their thoughts.