A documentary about co-operation in Canada

19 Jan 2015 | Archives

The Canadian co-operative movement is more engaged than ever in building the kind of economy we need for a sustainable future.

Following the economic downturn that impacted so many, the United Nations chose 2012 as the International Year of Co‑operatives. In Canada, this had a significant grass roots effect. It resulted in many local and regional co-operatives organizing meaningful activities to celebrate at the community level. The by-product of that is, of course, is that many co-operators got to know each other better. At the community level, regionally, provincially and even nationally.

Canada has also hosted two International Summits in Quebec City. This has further enhanced the sharing of knowledge and networks among co-operators in Canada. You might say we have some momentum; but there is a lot to do if we want to use this engagement to improve our communities, our country and the world.

Many social and economic issues persist in almost all communities in Canada. We know that the co-operative model provides a reliable and stable formula for solving some of these problems. It is a formula that is grounded in the communities they serve as the economy around them globalizes.

What is the biggest barrier to making huge strides in community economic development in that case? Education: Large numbers of Canadians cannot define what a co-op is, or how it is different from other businesses. Or they only understand co-ops to be not-for-profit. Many cannot differentiate between banks and credit unions. The first challenge in rectifying this is having mass communications tools that define co-operation and present the economic and democratic advantages of the model.

The Documentary

In 2014, a group of documentary filmmakers approached Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada to organize interviews with co-op leaders and educators who could speak about the nature of co‑operation and its advantages. They were seeking to demystify co-operatives. To broaden the audience for co-operation to those who are seeking ethical consumer and business alternatives.

Powerline Films is in the early stages of development of their documentary titled “A Silent Transformation” which is targeted for release in late 2015 or early 2016.  Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada is now collaborating with Powerline Films to provide knowledge of the sector and to find the resources needed to make the project successful.

The goal of our collaboration is to present as many authoritative Canadian voices and co‑operative examples as possible which we believe will raise the level of discussion about the need for more and larger co-operatives in Canada.

The Treatment

“A Silent Transformation” will be a feature-length presentation (90-120 minutes) that will explore four different sectors of the co-operative economy: food and agriculture, finance, housing and social services, and worker-owned enterprises.

The focus of the film will be to examine co-operative enterprises as instruments of economic development and social change.

By profiling the successes and challenges of different co-ops, in different sectors and regions of Canada, the film will introduce the general public to the cooperative business model. It will explore the potential of the co-op movement to transform our economic relationships.

To help tell this story, a number of small community co-ops will be profiled, weaving their personal stories into the wider narrative of the national and international co-op movement. Ideally, the film will depict co-ops across Canada, but given budget constraints it will focus primarily on co-operatives situated in Ontario and Quebec.

The film will feature interviews with co-op practitioners, co-op developers, community and union leaders, academics and researchers, politicians, public administrators, co-op managers, business leaders, authors, educators and activists. The goal is to have a plurality of voices speak to the issues; to present to the viewer a broad picture of Canadian co-operative history, the challenges, and possible futures.

To add in historic contexts, the film will include techniques such as stop-motion animation. The goal is to make this production as appealing to the wider public and to a diversity of age groups as possible. Animated computer graphics will also illustrate concepts such as co-op survival rates, growing wealth inequality, organizational structures and decision-making in co‑ops.

The proposed animations will help present the historical players in Canada. It will depict historical moments, such as Alphonse Desjardins listening to debates in the House of Commons about the unfair lending practices that ultimately motivated him to found co-operative banking in Canada. Other examples include depicting Father Moses Cody as he explains the importance and impacts of continuing education in helping people to help themselves to the MacLean Commission in 1927. These vignettes will play an important role in explaining the regional histories and circumstances of the co-operative movement in Canada.

Additionally, these segments would amplify some of the analogies, stories, and facts shared by interviewees. The documentary can blend the animated scenes with historical footage and contemporary video photography with motion graphics to create a rich and integrated visual presentation. 

The production team at Powerline have over two decades of experience in animation, editing, computer graphics and VFX, research and writing, producing content for television, commercial and feature films.


To fund this film there is multi-layered strategy that began with crowd-funding, which raised $12,800, which includes a generous $5,000 donation from The Co-operators. The film makers are now seeking the support of other sponsors, broadcasters and government grants.

The goal, however, is to try and finance the film independent of a broadcaster to expedite the production schedule, reduce administrative and legal costs and, most importantly, retain full creative control. To make this strategy realistic, the four Powerline co-owners have travelled and filmed interviews extensively throughout 2014 to establish some of the source materials required for a feature length documentary. They now have a reasonable amount of interviews and other footage ready for editing, an advantage they have achieved by donating significant time to the project.

The project requires $50,000 to initiate full-scale production, finance transportation and accommodation during the next stages. It will also allow editing work and animation to begin, and to pay the production team modest salaries during the next phase.

Powerline will be seeking additional funding of up to $80,000 to complete the animation and editing; pay for errors and omissions insurance, contract original music production and rights; pay for post-production (color correction, audio pro mix, closed captioning etc.); and cover distribution and publication costs.

In order to make sure that this film gets the public exposure that it needs and makes the social impact desired, a publicist may also be a valuable investment. Further on, a promotional campaign to get the film screened in film festivals may also be strategically important. These items remain on the unbudgeted ‘wish list’ for the time being.

The project is scalable. The level of funding support from sponsors, government or broadcasters we will determine the final scope and length the film. If the co-operative community is inclined to sponsor the project, there will be – for the first time – a high-quality independent film destined for broadcast and film festivals that feature Canada’s co-operative heritage and stories packaged with an incredibly valuable exploration of the co-operative model. With co-operative support Powerline will have the necessary leverage with broadcasters to secure the total funding required while retaining control of the project and the creative vision proposed.

The end result will open some avenues for Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada to provide engaging content to educators and stakeholders to properly situate the business model in the minds of young people.

“Outsiders will not readily learn about a movement that does not broadly project into the public square what it is and why it is important.” — Ian MacPherson

View the Trailer

A Silent Transformation – Long Trailer – French Subtitles from Powerline Films on Vimeo.

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