Rethinking stereotypes

On a map, the small town of Brooks, Alta., appears no different than any other rural location. But with only 13,000 people speaking approximately 90 different languages, Brooks has an uncharacteristically diverse population for a prairie town. When U of L new media researcher Dana Inkster decided to direct a documentary about Alberta's changing cultural landscape, Brooks was a natural choice. What she never anticipated finding was the angry voices and raw emotions of displaced workers fighting for basic rights.

"I had plans to tell this tiny poetic story and talk about people's experiences of travelling from war-torn countries and what life was like for them in Canada. It wasn't my intention to tell a labour story, but as soon as we started shooting, the strike broke out," recalls Inkster.

From that, 24 Days in Brooks emerged, a documentary centred around the 2005 labour strike at Lakeside Packers, one of the largest slaughterhouses in North America. At the time, more than half of Lakeside employees were immigrants or refugees with limited English, experience and skills. Although grateful for the opportunity to build a new life, employees were accusing Lakeside of unfair and unsafe labour practices and went on strike.

The film tells the stories of these workers – people like Peter Jany Khwai, who proudly wears a cowboy hat as well as an African shirt, and Edil Hassan, born in Somalia, who considers the time she picketed as one of her greatest accomplishments.

By honouring their stories through the film, Inkster hopes to establish understanding and break down traditional stereotypes.

"The individuals in the documentary are unique and show that race isn't a good way to characterize somebody. While race can be something we have in common, you can't understand people just by looking at them," explains Inkster.

"I hope audiences think twice about how they see the world and how they relate to their neighbours, friends, family and strangers. Above all else, if the film gets people to talk about things they haven't talked about before, then my work is done."