Speaking Their Peace

Terri Nash and Bonnie Sher Klein of Studio D, the women's studio at the National Film Board, have recently completed a new film about women's perspectives on peace, entitled Speaking Our Peace. Copies of Speaking Our Peace are available from NFB offices around the country. In June, the film will premiere in several cities across Canada, and it will be shown at the international conference taking place June 5-9 in Halifax: "Women's Alternatives for Negotiating Peace."
Nash is the director of the Academy Award-winning film If You Love This Planet and Klein directed the controversial and very chilling film on pornography Not A Love Story. In mid-May, we arranged an early-morning conference call with them in Montréal, and spoke about the experience of making the new film.

By Metta Spencer (interviewer) | 1985-06-01 12:00:00

PEACE: How did you first conceive the idea of doing this particular type of film, and how was it that the two of you decided to co-direct Speaking Our Peace?

Nash: Bonnie started it. She came up with the idea, and was looking around for co-directors.

Klein: The specific idea was actually suggested to me by Dorothy Rosenberg, a Montréal peace educator. She told me about the links women were making between feminism and peace. But it turned out that it was an idea that was kicking around -- there had been several other proposals and attempts to get funding for such a film.

PEACE: When was this?

Klein: Oh, June of 1983.

PEACE: How was it that the two of you decided to direct the film together?

Nash: Bonnie was looking for a collaborator, and she was talking about the project to me, and I asked her if I could be the collaborator! (laughs.) I just thought it was a natural sort of thing after If You Love This Planet.


Klein: One of the first consultations I made was to ask Tern, having done if You Love This Planet and spoken to so many people, what she thought was needed -- what are the problems? And so our starting point for this film was a sense of urgency, a feeling that people were very anxious -- we felt that the effect of If You Love This Planet and everything else that was going on was to make people feel very anxious and concerned, but without knowing what to do. So our starting point was to try to make a film that would channel that and give people a sense that, yes, there is something we can do.

Nash: Also, I wanted to do something else that would go further than If You Love This Planet, because I think what it did was inform people at that level, and at that time, when there wasn't a lot of information on the medical consequences of nuclear war. But it only went so far as a film. I really felt it was necessary to go further, and this I film does that. I think it's the next step. I don't think it's the end step, I just think it's another step.

Also, after if You Love This Planet, a lot of people were asking "Well, what about women?" -- Helen Caldicott does talk about women, particularly about mothers being concerned about their children, and having a more "global" perspective, a more vested interest in the future, in a way. So it seemed natural.

PEACE: Did your concept change from the early days up until the finished project?

Nash: Well, what we started with, first of all, was not wanting just to look at peace in relation to the arms race. We wanted to look at it as more than the absence of war -- we wanted to look at the links between peace and other issues. That's why we go into all sorts of other aspects that are related to peace and say, well, you can't have peace unless you address equality and social justice and development issues; I you really can't just limit it to war and I the lack of it. We felt it was important to make those links clear and explore them, although we weren't sure of all the links we would explore at that point.

It's difficult, because we still felt that some people had to be informed. So it wasn't that we could just say, well, this is how to solve the problems. We had to explore the problems. In a way, what we would rather have done was look at the successes and the action-oriented things women are doing. But we felt we couldn't assume that the links between these issues were already clear in people's minds.

PEACE: What did you learn when you were making this film? What were some of the issues that came out to you as being the strongest?

Nash: Well, for me, Sr. Rosalie Bertell's idea of the Third World War already having begun. She talks about I the idea that whether or not the weapons go off, we have already put ourselves in a situation where there is no future if we continue this way.

By the very production of nuclear weapons and all the waste that results from every process along that path, we're polluting our earth to such an extent that we have, in essence, become our own enemy. I found that a really startling idea. She basically says we can't throw anything away, because there is no "away." -- we have to look at ourselves (and literally in our own back yards, which we do in the film) and say "Look, the very production of nuclear weapons is killing us." You know, we always thought we could dump it over "somewhere else" -- on Micronesia -and they're now starting to have real health problems. But it also comes back to us, because this earth is one very small interconnected globe. And it doesn't go away. The problem will be with us forever, and we really have to start dealing with that -- we're going to kill ourselves, we're damaging the gene pool, we're damaging our resources, we re damaging the environment to such an extent that we don't really need an external enemy. Bonnie?

Klein: Well. You're so articulate in the morning! (laughs.) I guess the biggest learning for me is that we all I have to take responsibility. And the idea that, in particular, women are an incredible resource -- if we credit ourselves with it, if we take ourselves seriously enough to know that.

We don't talk about it directly very much in the film, but certainly one of our premises was that women -through our life experience, not though our biology, but through the kind of traditionally assigned role that we had (the nurturing role, and the role of being responsible for the emotional and spiritual life of family and community) -- that women have lots and lots of experience and skills in knowing how to resolve situations of conflict without violence, working on consensus, all these things that have kind of become buzzwords. You can see a hundred examples a day, if you watch one mother with two kids, of ways around things, of coming up with a solution that makes everybody gain a little, and maximizes the energy of the situation.

We really saw that happening, and we were inspired by so many women whose lives are examples of that and who are taking the step of crediting those skills and those values as really legitimate. Then, when you can make that leap and say, OK, I can enter politics, for example, and bring these values and these skills, like [Ottawa Mayor] Marion Dewar does -- and we see just a little bit of that in the film -then you really feel that women can become powerful and change the definition of power both at the same time, and that's, I think, where hope lies.

PEACE: You mentioned Sister Rosalie Bertell and Marion Dewar. How did you decide to use the women that you used?

Klein: It was hard. There are lots of terrific women who were left out. We made certain fundamental choices early on; for example, to focus on Canadian women. We really felt that there was so much richness going on here, and if we as the Film Board in Studio D wouldn't be featuring Canadian women, no one would. And even within Canada, the choices were rich. I guess we looked for a certain kind of diversity, we I looked for some women who were acting outside the political system. I guess [Halifax Voice of Women member] Muriel Duckworth is the "ultimate volunteer." Marion is the Mayor of Ottawa. Ursula Franklin is an academic [at the University of Toronto], working at another kind of institution, an example of...

Nash: She's our "philosopher queen!" (laughs.)

Klein: And somebody who refuses to do classified research, for example, I which is really showing once more a model of a woman who has the traditional credentials, but uses them very differently.

Nash: And we wanted an artist, Margaret Laurence, somebody who is concerned with writing and with expressing herself in that way. We decided that, to go to the Soviet Union, we wanted an older woman and a young woman. Kathleen Wallace-Deering of Project Ploughshares went to the Soviet Union, and we filmed there. Darlene Keju is a woman born in Micronesia and is experiencing health problems; she's a public health nurse...

PEACE: What sort of health problems?

Nash: Personal tumours, herself, but she also is doing her own health survey of the people there who are now I experiencing health problems after nuclear testing that took place thirty years ago, and their increased amounts I of cancers, of a phenomenon that she calls 'jellyfish babies," which are a reproductive anomaly....

PEACE: I think originally you had decided to just film in Canada, and then it expanded. what other countries did you visit? You mentioned the Soviet Union.

Klein: We always intended to go to the Soviet Union. Terri's answer to that question "what's the main stumbling block when audiences respond to If You Love This Planet?" was, she said, "What about the Russians?" People got hung up on that question. So we felt that was essential we had to go and confront that question. I hope that, in that scene, we achieved a kind of balance. We certainly don't condone the Soviet treatment of human rights and individual rights. Maybe I'm not saying that strongly enough. We criticize.

Nash: We do address it. I think our purpose was twofold in the Soviet Union. One [objectivej was to present the Soviet people as human beings, which I think may sound ridiculous, but a lot of people do consider them as "the enemy," a faceless enemy. And the pther was to address them. In one sectlon Kathleen Wallace-Deering asks them the tough sorts of questions -- about Afghanistan and about peace actlvltles, about human rights questions, and (though they aren't really I answered), we felt it was important that these questions be asked -- that we did pose them to people who are officials of the Soviet Union.

And we also do other things. We try and go into a little bit of their history. We have archival footage of the siege of Leningrad, and we speak to a woman who has survived the siege of Leningrad, and see what sort of difference that has made to her life.

PEACE: Was this difficult, setting up interviews with people who were not with the official Soviet peace I movement?

Klein: We were not able to do interviews with anybody without setting it up. Let's put it this way; all interviews had to be set up through the Soviet film agency, which was our host and "surveillor." We were able to tell them who we wanted to see, and in most cases they set up the interview. We chose not to ask to see the official Soviet Peace Committee. We worked instead with the Soviet Women's Committee, which is also a semi-governmental body.

PEACE: Were you able to meet with anybody who was actively in the independent peace movement?

Klein: We didn't meet with anyone who was in the official peace movement, but nor were we allowed to film meetings with the members of the Committee to Establish Trust.

PEACE: How long were you in the Soviet Union?

Klein: Three weeks. We were filming for two weeks, in Moscow and Leningrad.

PEACE: Can you just give me a brief glimpse of your initial feelings of visiting the Soviet Union for the first time?

Klein: Well, the people were certainly incredibly warm and generous, and very anxious to speak their piece. That was from people-on-the-street interviews (which we were allowed to do) right through the heroines of the siege of Leningrad whom we asked to meet with. And our feeling was that, in terms of their desire for peace, that that was absolutely sincere.

Nash: I had real mixed feelings. I mean, on the one hand, there were the Institute for US and Canada Studies people. They inform the government on North America, basically, and they read all the North American magazines and books, and formulate opinion and policy toward North America. You see them in the film, and I found it sort of frustrating, because it was difficult to get beyond the party line with them.

In comparison to that institute, we met with women who survived the siege of Leningrad, and they were absolutely spectacular. They were wonderful, warm, open women. They were not political women -- they were just last war.who had gone through the last war.

PEACE: What other countries did you visit for this film?

Nash: We went to Britain and filmed at Greenham Common. That was amazing. We open our film with some footage from Greenham Common. We went there on the third anniversary of the women have gone and occupied outside Greenham, to protest the cruise missiles there.

PEACE: Did you speak with some of the original people who had been there for three years?

Klein: Yes, and thirty thousand other women materialized in one day to surround the nine miles of fence, with minimal organization. That was one of the really interesting things.

Nash: It was amazing. I mean, suddenly there were thirty thousand women there, from all over the world, really mostly from England. It was extraordinarily inspiring. I found I felt at that time the power of those women in saying "No, we won't accept this," and standing up, on the other side of the fence, were all these military men, dressed in their military garb, and protecting the missiles. And on this side of the fence, were all these women saying "no." It felt like it was a concentration camp inside the fence. And I really felt it was almost like the holocaust, and that people were standing up to the concentration camp, and saying "No, we won't have it."

PEACE: How did the men react to that?

Nash: I think they were confused and threatened, but they got very very pushy and macho when there were huge numbers of women and the women started pushing the fence. But at one point, after the main demonstration part died down a bit, some of the women brought policemen tea, and the same policemen that had pushed them drank tea and chatted with them. It was really quite wonderful.

Klein: That's when they start talking about their mutual children, and get it on a very personal level. I said before that we really wanted to focus the film on Canada, but what we found when we got there was an incredible sense of urgency that's really missing here.

PEACE: In what way?

Klein: Well, I guess because the missiles are right there, in their back yards, they have a sense of urgency that we don't feel yet, or at least that we didn't experience in our research and in our participation in demonstrations in Canada, even at Litton. We went there a month after we filmed at Litton. And the reality is so much more immediate. You're looking at this barbed wire sheltering these missiles. So people are really scared, and that comes across.

It's also a terrific sense of joy, because they're experiencing the sense of their own power, as they resist And rather than a lot of anger and rage it somehow transformed into a sense of beauty and joy. Whether they're making beautiful signs and sculptures on the fences, or in their singing...

PEACE: And just the fact that they've committed themselves to go there, and to live there with each other, I think.

Klein: And they're having to invent ways of working together. Everything they do is new. So they're constantly creating new strategies and tactics and ways of living together under incredibly severe conditions.

PEACE: Can you tell me where else you went to film?

Klein: I think tha 's it. Martin Duckworth filmed in Hiroshima for us, when he went with his mother, for Hiroshima Day that summer of 1983.

Nash: And we got footage from other sources from El Salvador and Nicaragua. And we got archival footage from the Marshall Islands.

PEACE: Where else in Canada?

Klein: We filmed in Halifax, Montréal, Toronto and area (Port Hope and Scarborough), Elliot Lake...

PEACE: There's something in the film in Port Hope I noticed with people who are fishing. Can you describe that?

Klein: Well, we were amazed. We hadn't been there before, but to go to Port Hope, to see the chemicals spilling out into the water on Lake Ontario, to read that there had been the biggest spill ever the previous night...

PEACE: That was from Eldorado.

Klein: Yes. And to come and see all these fishermen just lined up on the piers at the factory, fishing as if nothing had happened. And it seemed to just really symbolize the denial with which we all live. I mean, I think the information is out there, and I think even the people in Port Hope, it's clear, knew that there were problems, but, at the same time, if you're living there, or if you're dependent on a job there, you have to deny that it could be as bad as it is. So you go on acting as if nothing happened. And I think that's true of most of us -- we have to live as if this isn't going on.

PEACE: And wasn't there a fisherman who said he never ate the fish, but gave them away -- to his friends?

Klein: Yeah. "I give most of them away, eh?" And another worker, who talked to us from behind the fence, who talks about the fact that they need the jobs.

PEACE: Exactly

Klein: So we try to address that in the film, and of course there's much more information available that isn't in the film -the short-term job question versus the larger view which says that we could organize our economy in other ways which would not make jobs linked to military production, if we chose to do so. And that requires political will.

PEACE: Why do you think that a film about women that shows the joy of women who are working actively in the peace movement will be effective for the general public?

Nash: Well, it's something that they haven't heard before. It's not that women haven't all spoken about these things -- they have -- it's just that people haven't listened.

PEACE: Why do you think they're going to listen now?

Nash: You know, in most films -- even the War series, done at the Film Board -- nobody asked the opinions of women on these questions, which is, I think, extremely ironic, since women are traditionally the peacemakers, in real daily ways. Bonnie was talking about that before; women look for win-win situations. You know, if there are two children in the family fighting, the mother doesn't want one to win and one to lose. They both have to feel good about themselves, or the whole family loses. So it's those sorts of models that women have always worked with. I think it's become so invisible, partly because of the fact that situations of tension that don't become disasters, or wars, by their very nature tend to become invisible.

PEACE: Why do you think people are going to listen now?

Klein: That's a great question! Well, part of the answer is because we're so desperate. The other alternatives, the other ways of looking at human nature, and solving human problems, are so clearly not workable, that maybe the crisis itself makes the opportunity

The other part of it is that women themselves are aware of that power now. I think we are beginning to see ourselves as a resource, are beginning to I recognize that our way of looking at things is valuable.

Nash: The thing too, is that I don't think women have been validated in having themselves and their opinions on film in this way before. As I was saying, other films don't usually ask their opinions; women are just sort of "around." Part of this film is not only the content of the messages that are coming through, but also the fact that I women are being validated. The whole number of really interesting, informed, articulate, intelligent women are being asked their opinions, and are giving their philosophies, and they are being validated in this film. The fact that they're up there on the big screen, in a sense, compels you to listen to them That in itself is important.

Klein: We're redefining "expert."

Nash: Yes, exactly. In a sense, we're saying that these women have always been here. Dr. Ursula Franklin has always talked about these things, for example. We have to start listening. There is this sense of urgency and the sense of validation at the same time.

PEACE: I agree, but do you think men will listen?

Klein: What do you think?

PEACE: I hope so. I think they have to listen. In my opinion, we've been watching and listening to men for I a long time.

Klein: I think we'll know the answer I to your question as we see the response I

to the film, and in a sense the film is I too new for us to gauge it yet.

I think it is a valid question, and we shall see, but the question has to be amended to say that women have to be in power too.

Nash: I hope that women getting a sense of their own power will change the situation to the extent that we don't have to ask the question "Will men listen?," but rather "Will women take the power, and change things?"

Klein: The ideas aren't exclusive to women. I hope that's clear. It's not as if we're saying that men have to shut up now and forever, and listen to women. In the beginning of the film, Ursula compares militarism, and the threat system, with feminism, which emphasizes cooperation and respects differences. And these feminist ideas are really open to anybody. Women have had to mind them exclusively, and we don't want exclusive responsibility I for them.

Nash: We're saying that women have something to offer, and men can adopt those sorts of values -- and some have already, but certainly more have to -- and they have to start being translated from the private to the public agenda.

PEACE: Was the National Film Board behind you from the beginning, or did you have to conform or change your ideas in any way?

Klein: No, There was nothing required of us. The wonderful thing about Studio D is that, within the limits of our resources which are determined by the Film Board, we have autonomy to say what we want. However, we are not mandated to produce in French at Studio D, and we have no control over what films get versioned into French. So at this point, there has not been a positive decision to make a French version of this film, I which I think is a problem.

Nash: If people want a French version, they should write to the commissioner of the Film Board.

Klein: And their MP.

PEACE: Was this film done by women -- your whole crew?

Nash: Yes. An all-woman crew. The sound recordist, cinematographer, everybody.

PEACE: And you have Margot Kidder narrating. wonderful. Did the film meet your wildest expectations? Did it do what you wanted it to do?

Klein: Oh, of course not! (laughing) It never does, or we would stop! You'd never make your next film!

Lynn Connell is an organizer with Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (PAND).

Peace Magazine June 1985

Peace Magazine June 1985, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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