Filmmaker Maureen Bradley & Reframing the Montréal Massacre

Bradley. Photo: Ted Kuzemski

Interview by Tara Sharpe

Q: This month is the 20th anniversary of Dec. 6, 1989—when 14 women were systematically murdered by a gunman at l’École Polytechnique in Montréal. What can you tell us about what this date means to you, and about your 1995 video project Reframing the Montréal Massacre, which explores how media shaped the reality of what you call “the most brutal mass murder in Canadian history”?

At that time, I had just finished my undergraduate studies at Concordia University in Montréal, and had been asking myself am I feminist or am I a humanist? Then there it was, writ large: I was at the university right down the hill, and it happened so close, only a few blocks away. I was involved with the women’s group at Concordia, and we would get death threats, even after the event every year on Dec. 6. It shook my world to the core at such a formative age.

Reframing the Montréal Massacre was my master’s thesis project, begun less than two years after the massacre.

The attack went right to the heart of privilege. And the film demonstrates that the media unintentionally staged a second attack, especially with the subtle choices made by editors and producers. It was a very centralized news system then [without the Internet’s open platform of public discussion now], and there was a gender bias, no doubt about it. There were choices about use of front-page photos, about who provides comment about the attack and who doesn’t, and even portrayals of the gunman as a victim.

It was a very challenging piece. So far I have produced 40 or more films and this production was really the hardest one.

When I watch the film now, I can feel my anger flying out. Twenty years later, I’m older and I think it’s different now. The classroom I was in then was quite different from the classes today. A savvy public no longer takes what it sees in the news as fact.

Q: What would you say to university students today, some of whom were toddlers or not even born in 1989?

I would ask them not to forget that, less than a generation ago, women were killed just for going to university.

It was a different world. But women are still experiencing gender-based violence. So where do we go from here? The way we raise our children is critical, but I think it is still just beginning. There is so much to do.

Q: What can you tell us about your new multi-authored cyber-media project?

Momento Mori is the inverse of the media coverage 20 years ago: it’s an open forum and new online memorial project calling for constructive two-minute answers to the question, “How do you remember the Montréal Massacre?”
I’m the project originator and UVic MFA student Scott Amos (writing) is the website creator. We’re launching it on Dec. 6, and we invite submissions in any language. There will be a French version of the website too.

I’d like to come back to it every December and, hopefully with some additional funding, keep reconvening for a decade.

Q: How can readers get a copy of the original 27-minute video?

They can visit the Momento Mori website and view the video on Vimeo.

The annual National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women will take place at the UVic fountain on Friday, Dec. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to honour the 14 women’s memories and to call for continued hope for change and positive action on violence against women.

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