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The Things I Cannot Change

Directed by Tanya Ballantyne Tree
Canada, 1967 (documentary, 55 minutes, black and white, English)
The Things I Cannot Change
Photo © National Film Board of Canada
Video (National Film Board of Canada)

Film Description:
"This film is considered to be the forerunner of the NFB's Challenge for Change Program. It is a look at a family in trouble, seen from the inside. There is the trouble with the police, the begging for stale bread at the convent, the birth of another child, and the father who explains his family's predicament. Although filmed in Montréal, this is the anatomy of poverty as it occurs in North America, seen by a camera that became part of the family's life for several weeks. A sequel to this film was made in 1986, under the title Courage to Change, showing what happend to the Bailey family 18 years later."
-- National Film Board of Canada (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Produced by: John Kemeny
Cinematography: Paul Leach
Film Editing: William Brind
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada

Quotes about The Things I Cannot Change

"In retrospect, it is possible for us to see that the film [The Things I Cannot Change] underwent a scrutiny that most observational projects of the time did not. The filmmaker was held accountable in a way that by today's standards seems excessive, not only against the measure of the ethical debaucheries regularly committed by producers of Reality Television (one wonders what Nanny 911 would have done with the Baileys) but against that of even more respectable longitudinal documentary projects (i.e., films where the filmmaker embeds with his or her subjects across periods of time), like Michael Apted's 7Up series. Ballantyne Tree was criticized primarily for what she did not do -- pre-screen the film, leave out potentially defamatory scenes, protect the father from self-harm, intervene in a violent situation. Yet all the things she didn't do, in the end, tell us very little about what she did do. At the very least, the project was an attempt to do something about chronic problems associated with poverty, and to do this by bringing the issue before the public eye, being the film with the largest television audience to date for any NFB documentary."
-- Marit Kathryn Corneil (source)

"The Canadian Government Poverty Program, later titled Challenge for Change, was begun in 1966 as a cooperative effort of a number of government departments and agencies including the National Film Board. Film ideas for the program were discussed among the staff, but no action was taken until the Privy Council Office proposed sponsoring a film on urban poverty [...]. The film's purpose was to arouse public interest and concern for the problems of the urban poor. Originally intended as a thirty-minute production, it [The Things I Cannot Change] was expanded to an hour and given initial release on television."
-- C. Rodney James (source)

"Launched with incredible fanfare with a national broadcast on the CBC, 3 May 1967, The Things I Cannot Change [...] has to go down in Canadian film history as one of the most controversial films ever released by the National Film Board (NFB), one that continues to enrage critics and fellow documentary practitioners up to the present moment."
-- Brenda Longfellow (source)

"This striking documentary, which focuses on one Montreal family's struggle with poverty, is a remarkable film, full of poetic images, heart-wrenching moments, and editing that was far ahead of its time. [...] The film became notorious as a textbook case for ethical dilemmas in documentary filmmaking [...]."
-- Wyndham Wise (source)

Quote about The Things I Cannot Change [in French]

"En réalisant The Things I Cannot Change Tanya Ballantyne-Tree avait suscité de multiples questionnements relatifs aux vertus et aux limites du documentaire comme outil d'analyse et d'intervention sociale. Le film fut diffusé sur la chaîne nationale Radio-Canada en mai 1967, connut un important succès d'audience et eut un impact considérable auprès du public. Beaucoup de Canadiens ignoraient tout de ce niveau de pauvreté et de telles images étaient pour le moins inhabituelles à la télévision."
-- Caroline Zéau (source)

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