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Simon Brothers and Luke Mistruzzi of Powerline Films are creating a documentary about how co-ops effect social change

The film traileInterview_DSC00131_ Powerline Films_715X (1)r for A Silent Transformation starts off simply enough, with a grainy video, circa unknown, showing three siblings, hair shiny and carefully brushed, dressed in their good clothes. The youngest exuberantly plants a kiss on the cheeks of each of her two older sisters, while Darryl Reed, president of Saskatoon’s Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operation, provides the voice-over. “We learn certain values and we all learn these values very young,” says Reed. “We’re told we have to be nice to other people, we have to take turns. But somehow we managed to privatize those understandings of what it is to be a good person.”

An exploration of alternatives to capitalism

As can be gleaned from this thoughtful opening, A Silent Transformation, still being shot by co-directors Simon Brothers, 36, and Luke Mistruzzi, 34, of Powerline Films in Stratford, Ont., is a documentary that, among other things, explores human values, the meaning of community and alternatives to the capitalism model. The landscape for the documentary is Ontario’s network of cooperatives. Some are food co-ops, created to enhance food security, variety and distribution. Other co-ops have originated where the urban poor dwell, providing a leg up out of entrenched poverty.

Being financial cooperatives, credit unions are also featured in the documentary, and include a discussion with Bill Maurin, president and CEO of Ontario’s Meridian Credit Union (250,000-plus members, $12.2 billion in assets), who explains how his institution remains true to co-op principles. By examining such a variety of cooperatives, and interviewing both national and international economic experts, as well as activists like Maude Barlow, the national chairperson of the citizens’ advocacy group Council of Canadians, A Silent Transformation reveals the “transformative possibilities of the cooperative model of business,” Brothers says.

Aligned with the co-op movement

Powerline Films is an enterprising film company that offers animation in addition to the core basics: script writing, directing, camera, sound, and editing. Started over a cup of coffee in 2009 by Mistruzzi and Brothers — both fresh out of film school — the company’s bread and butter to date has been short videos for the Internet, commissioned by a range of clients that includes government and NGOs. “As a private company we often align ourselves with not-for-profits that are engaged in work that we are interested in,” says Brothers.

“I know a lot of people who are intelligent and drive change, but don’t know much about co-ops. If people like this can see this film, and understand the co-op model and embrace it, it could be pretty powerful stuff”
—Simon Brothers

A Silent Transformation is a deeply personal project for both Brothers and Mistruzzi, who include two other partners, Mark Preston and Anton Smolski, as key personnel in the documentary’s creation. “We formed an unofficial co-op to make the film,” says Mistruzzi.

The feature-length documentary was partly inspired by Brothers’ and Mistruzzi’s work creating a series of short videos for the Local Organic Food Co-op Network as part of the province’s video project “Ontario’s Good Food Ideas.” This experience ignited a passionate belief that the co-op model could nurture positive change and growth within local communities. Brothers and Mistruzzi point to the depressed inner city of London, Ont., which was severely affected by a decline in the local manufacturing sector in the past several decades. “Worker co-ops are popping up out of necessity,” says Brothers.

Education and engagement

The pair was motivated to produce A Silent Transformation for another reason: a curious lack of knowledge among their peers about the co-operative movement itself. “I know a lot of people who are intelligent and drive change, but don’t know much about co-ops. If people like this can see this film, and understand the co-op model and embrace it, it could be pretty powerful stuff,” says Brothers, a member of Ontario’s Libro Credit Union (100,000-plus members, $3.6 billion in assets). To this end, Brothers and Mistruzzi are in discussions to ensure A Silent Transformation, once completed, will be screened in Ontario high schools through the All 4 Each program, the brainchild of the Ontario Co-operative Association. All 4 Each creates awareness among young people of the co-op model.

Recently, Mistruzzi and Brothers embarked on an Indiegogo crowdfunding initiative to raise the $50,000 needed to finish the project. Only $12,000 was raised. Disappointing, sure, but just one of many challenges filmmakers face when making a noncommercial project. Meanwhile, financial support has also come from The Co-operators Group Limited.

The partners are also pursuing grant monies from groups like the Ontario-based Atkinson Foundation, which promotes social and economic justice in the province by disbursing $2.2 million annually to projects that advance this mission. But big wads of cash aren’t what make successful documentaries. Passion and vision do, and these are what lie at the heart of A Silent Transformation. “We love meeting new people and that’s the really not-so-big secret to being a successful documentary company,” says Mistruzzi. “We just love to hear people’s stories.” ◊