Last night, director Mina Shum was brought to tears when the audience praised her with a long and enthusiastic standing ovation for her gripping documentary Ninth Floor. The film masterfully examines a little known incident in Canadian history: the Sir George Williams University riot of February 1969.
When discussions about racial bias with university officials breakdown, a small group of students take their protest to the computer room and begin a 14-day occupation that inevitably escalates into a race riot on the streets of Montreal. In Ninth Floor, Shum gives the former students an opportunity to finally share their incredible story, which to this day still haunts them.
After the screening, I was one of many who approached Shum to give thanks for bringing the story to light, and just before I had my chance, I couldn't help but be intrigued by what an emotional woman had to say to her. Euphemie McIntyre is the sister of the late Roosevelt "Rosie" Douglas, one of the protesters featured in the film. She had heard stories from Rosie about his ordeal as a student and never quite grasped their impact until tonight's premiere.
Euphemie McIntyre: The film brought back the pain that Rosie went through. I remember telling Rosie that I was considering moving to Canada after the hurricane in Dominica and he begged me not to come. He said, "you don't know what the pain is when you are up there." Just watching the movie and hearing what the other students had to say matched with everything he told me -- how discrimination tears at your heart. He didn't want me to go through what he went through.
TorontoVerve: After seeing the film, what thoughts come to mind about Rosie?
EM: In Dominica, Rosie was always thought of as a hero (Douglas became Prime Minister of Dominica shortly before he passed away in 2010). It's not easy to stand up to injustice and they were proud of Rosie for being brave and always standing up. It caused a lot of pain in my family -- especially for my mom. She was always praying and saying, "I hope they don't kill my child."
TV: Do you have any bad feelings for Canada after how Rosie and the students were treated?
EM: No, it's not a Canada thing, it's a world thing. There's [racial bias] in everybody's mind and I feel sorry for them. I'm really proud of Rosie for standing up with those students because he could have easily turned his back and come back to Dominica.
TV: Where do you live now?
EM: I live in Toronto.
TV: You live here?
EM: Yeah, I live in Canada. After the hurricane destroyed Dominica in 1980, I told Rosie that I was going to move here and if I didn't like it, I was going to move back.
TV: Did he change his views about Canada after hearing your positive experience?
EM: He was very happy for me. It wasn't that he didn't like Canada. He loved Canada. He just didn't like how some of the Black students were being treated. He never had any anti-Canada feelings. He was just afraid that I would be treated the same way. We were very close until the end.
Next screening: Monday, September 14th at 2pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4
A theatrical release is planned to coincide with Martin Luther King's birthday.
Ninth Floor Trailer