One of LCIFF's enlightening feature films this year is the documentary Peace Has No Borders, directed by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller. It follows the experiences of Iraq War veterans seeking asylum in Canada and political activists there who support their claim. This documentary sheds light on a controversial social and political issue that came to light during the Vietnam War, and hasn't faded away since.
This overarching theme is common throughout Ellis and Mueller's work together. They are passionate about the subjects they choose, and Ellis says, "our films express counter-narratives, stories not told by the mainstream press. We fill a gap."
Read on for more insight into the directors' journey in bringing this story to light in LCIFF intern Samantha Johnson's interview with Deb Ellis:
LCIFF: When and how did you first become familiar with this subject?
Deb Ellis (DE): In 2006, we learned about a bi-national event called “Peace Has No Borders” held in support of Iraq War resisters who crossed the border to Canada instead of returning to war. We decided to check it out, and were compelled. Taking place near the U.S./Canadian border in Buffalo, NY and Ft. Erie, ON, we met draft dodgers and deserters from the Vietnam War era, including members from Vets For Peace (VFP) and Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), all there to support a new generation of vets who had crossed the border in recent years, refusing participation in current wars.
We quickly decided that this was a story that interested us, and initially thought of making a short film. That was our idea, but we soon found ourselves following the story over time. Now, ten years later, we have finished the film, but the story of the resisters who crossed the border is ongoing.
For better or worse, we didn’t know what we were getting into. But, we felt strongly about following an activist movement, and this story seemed perfect for us. Initially, we started following one family. As we continued to shoot, we saw a bigger picture. There were multiple characters, and the War Resisters Support Campaign, led by Michelle Robidous, became a character as well. There were tremendous ups and downs over the years. Reality has a funny way of intervening in the best laid plans! We got ourselves into the story and didn’t crawl out until the Harper government was voted out of power by the Canadian electorate in 2015.
LCIFF: How does this film relate to other work you have done?
DE: Our films examine significant social and political movements. "Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train" (short-listed for an Academy Award) is an overview of social movements of the 20th century through the eyes of activist and historian Howard Zinn. "The FBI’s War on Black America" is a rigorous examination of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO program. An underground classic, the film remains a relevant cautionary tale about the dangers of government surveillance. "Peace Has No Borders" is yet another chapter, reflecting on the impact of social activism and resistance to war.
Our prior films are important reminders that some people make great sacrifices to talk truth to power and that often they pay a price. “Peace Has No Borders” follows the story of a few contemporary soldiers for peace, revealing both the power and limitations of activism.
When we began working on this film there were several good films being made about the Iraq War and we didn’t want to duplicate those efforts. Instead, we found the beginning of a parallel, but untold, story about Iraq War veterans who crossed the border to Canada seeking asylum, much like their Vietnam era counterparts. “Peace Has No Borders” keeps their story alive for future generations who will face their own decisions in the face of war.
LCIFF: What insight did this film give you into the relationship between Canada’s government and public opinion?
DE: Working on this film has reinforced our sense that public opinion and what a government wants can be very different. A 2008 Angus Reid poll showed that 64% of Canadians believed U.S. Iraq War resisters should be allowed to stay in Canada. A new 2016 Insights West public opinion poll confirms this sentiment. A majority of Canadians agree with allowing U.S. soldiers - who fled to Canada after refusing to take part in the Iraq War - to become permanent residents. But, the politicians have been either strongly adverse, or silent.
In 2006, Canada’s Conservative Party was elected into power and Stephen Harper was appointed Prime Minister. Harper was vehimantly opposed to allowing the resisters to stay in Canada. A lot of our film takes place during his reign. Today, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is in power. Despite Trudeau’s support of the resisters in Parliament, and in our film, he has has been silent since taking power. The remaining resisters in Canada continue to live in limbo. Change is difficult. That’s one of the things our film is about.
Great job, Samantha! Keep up the good work!