Grass Through Concrete – Press Coverage

By Randy Kay VIEW Magazine ( Oct. 14-20, 2004 )

Grass Through Concrete: The Struggle to Protect the Red Hill Valley is a new documentary film that delves into the local protest movement and, despite the damage inflicted on the valley, comes up with inspiration. For first-time film-maker Maia Iotzova, Red Hill Valley is the “heart” of east Hamilton , and it exerted a hidden power drawing her in to a vibrant and diverse vein of people united to save the valley.

“A lot of people would refer to the valley as a sacred space, more than just a place to go and relax: for people from the Six Nations, the sacredness related to their burial grounds, and their ancestors who had lived there.” If it seemed like the valley was drawing people to protect it, 27-year-old Iotzova is a good example of the mysterious process at work.

Returning to Hamilton from British Columbia for a three month visit to family, she arrived back just as things were heating up in the valley.

“I came back to Hamilton when all the direct action was starting in the valley. I went down to check it out and to let them know that if they need me some days I could come down with my video camera and film some things, and that turned into they needed me all the time.”

Her three-month visit stretched into a year, and meant sacrificing her personal life to a degree in order to get the film made. Her partner lives in B.C.

She helped start up the grassroots Red Hill Video Collective as a way to ensure the limited number of video cameras were available to cover events as they unfolded. They soon found that the movement was rich with action.

With one eye behind the lens and another on the job of protecting the valley, she brings a unique perspective to the cause of the valley.

“There were a bunch of us running around filming things, but usually journalists are the outsider who comes in, spends an hour or two filming and then takes off: we saw from the inside: the emotion, people’s sacrifices, the things mainstream media would glance over because of the way (their media) is structured.” Making a film after being so intimately connected to the action meant having to deal with her biases, something Iotzova confronts head on.

“I’m showing the inside of the struggle,” she says, “I am being honest about that. The other side is shown so much: in the media you see people getting arrested, but you don’t see their story, how they felt, or who they are and why they are doing it. No media are giving justice to the people there, so my bias was important to make the film: showing the other side.”

Iotzova says the message conveyed in her film is clear: “‘You can’t give up,’ ‘You just have to stick to what you believe in.’ Everyone I interviewed in the film said that. “Making the film, as I was watching the footage over and over, seeing all the people involved, it was inspiring, people are so resilient. I learned about the strength that resides in our community, I wouldn’t have known that before getting involved, I would have been discouraged and given up. I learned an immense amount about what it means to struggle.”

The film is divided into three parts detailing the history and the direct action, ending with people reflecting on their part in the struggle.

Iotzova hopes that people outside of Hamilton take an interest in the film and what is happening in the valley. “People are losing green-space everywhere to ‘development,’ sprawl is in its golden age. It’s sad, government reports saying urban sprawl costs taxpayers more, causes pollution, but it just keeps happening everywhere.

This community came together last year, people who never met each other, from a variety of ages and walks of life, it was amazing, a different awareness was created in Hamilton and that’s not going away.”

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