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Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the 70's Generation 1999


Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Catherine Annau
VHS, color, 88 min.

High School - Adult
Canadian Studies, Popular Culture

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, Washington, DC

In Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the 70's Generation, Catherine Annau sets out to show the effects Pierre Trudeau's vision of a unified Canada had on a group of individuals who grew up during his administration.

I wish I liked this film more. If it was titled, Bilingualism in Contemporary Canada, I probably would have. The problem I had was not that it wasn't well produced, it's that it doesn't deliver what the title suggests. First, there is very little about the life and career of Pierre Trudeau and second, the interviewed subjects represent the 80's generation far more than the 70's. All have memories of Trudeau but none speak with any authority or detail about who Trudeau was or what he stood for except Canadian unity and bilingualism.

What one does get are eight intercut stories of individuals growing up in Canada. All well-educated but relatively average people. There's a mix of native French and English speakers and the common theme is that much of their conversation focuses on Trudeau's and Canada's push to increase bilingualism and how it affected their lives. The hostility and distrust the Francophones hold toward the Anglophones is clearly evident but the roots of their anger go unexplored. There are references to the 1970 crisis and 1996 referendum on Quebec becoming sovereign but the speakers provide no context. The target audience is clearly Canadians because it is assumed the viewer comes steeped in background information about Trudeau and Canadian politics during the 1970's.

Nevertheless, the film is entertaining. It is visually engrossing, and has a good soundtrack and a snappy pace. Each of the subjects' voices is distinctive and the variety of stories will maintain the viewer's interest. While no one paints a romanticized view, the interviewees leave one with the impression that French- and English-speaking Canadians are learning to live with each other and Trudeau's vision of a unified Canada has left a mark. Still one must question the validity of their words given that the 1996 referendum on Quebec becoming sovereign lost by less than 1% of the vote.

To the best of the reviewer's knowledge there are no documentaries currently in release that truly cover the career of Trudeau or of the political battles that have been fought between the Quebecois and English Canada. One National Film Board film on the topic, Donald Britten's The Champions (1986) about Trudeau and his political opponent René Lévesque, is out of release so there is a need for an authoritative perspective.

Because the title and description of this film may lead one to believe this is a documentary about Pierre Trudeau, it is hard to recommend it to an American audience unversed in issues of Canadian identity and nationalism. I would however recommend it more highly to Canadian audiences.