If the pandemic lifted the veil on the shortcomings in the care given to seniors, the curtain quickly fell. In the hope of bringing the subject back into the public space, Montreal filmmaker Helene Klodawsky presents at the Montreal International Documentary Meetings Stolen Time, a film about the fight of a Toronto lawyer against the opaque industry for-profit health centers.
Melissa Miller represents several families in a class action against long-term care companies. Partner of the Toronto firm Howie Sacks and Henry LLP, she is fighting to have these cases of negligence heard by the courts as a whole in order to demonstrate systemic negligence on the part of these companies which operate establishments in Ontario similar to CHSLDs private in Quebec.
“As I heard the same things, I said to myself, ‘This is not a coincidence.’ This is something I really want to dig into and find out,” says Melissa Miller in the opening of the film.
Dehydration, poorly treated wounds, poor diagnoses, rotten teeth: the stories told by relatives of residents and health care workers, with supporting photos, are horrifying. A client of Melissa Miller describes what she saw when the nurse removed the bandage that covered a wound on her mother’s body, a pressure ulcer that had developed into an infection. “The hole in his body was incredible. The only way I can describe it is that I probably could have stuck my fist in it. I could see his tailbone. » However, the care staff at the center had told him about a minor wound which had healed.
Helene Klodawsky began to become interested in the issue of elder care when the shadow of the recent pandemic loomed and friends were already worried about the fate of their parents and spouses in nursing homes. She found in Melissa Miller, whom she discovered through a video on YouTube, the way to make this subject interesting, a subject which, in addition to the moving I placed my mother by Denys Desjardins , has been rarely discussed in cinema.
“For a very long time, I have been looking for how I can approach these kinds of subjects with imagination,” says the director. His approach was made more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty of obtaining authorization to film inside establishments. The film is therefore based on testimonies, photos, drawings created by Lisa Alleyne, a woman who worked as a beneficiary attendant, and on the strength and charisma of the protagonist, whom she followed for four years.
“When you first see her in her high heels, you would never think that she is fighting for old people,” notes Ms. Klodawsky. For me, the question of how we can link the market and capitalism to care is very urgent. The population is aging, everyone will need care and if the market controls everything, that raises very important questions. Can we take advantage of vulnerability? How can we fight back, how can we impact what’s happening? »
During filming, Helene Klodawsky says she was shocked by the triangle between vulnerable people, their families and health care workers. “There’s a phrase I learned: “The conditions of work are the conditions of care.” »
If she turns her camera on the Ontario system, it is also because the for-profit care center industry is growing more quickly there than elsewhere, she specifies. But the issue of privatization of health care for seniors is pan-Canadian, according to her, especially since the companies sued in Ontario have activities in other provinces.
“I think this film will help people see that this is not an individual experience and that we must use it as a call for justice for profound changes,” says Helene Klodawsky. Making this film with the NFB [co-production with Intuitive Pictures], it gave us the chance to really share this feeling here in Quebec and throughout Canada. »
Ana Alice de Morais, co-artistic director, RIDM programming and RIDM Forum, speaks of Stolen Time as a “strikingly powerful documentary, particularly significant in the current post-pandemic context.” “Through the daily fight led by lawyer Melissa Miller, a character both determined and charismatic, the film highlights the fact that the vulnerability of older people in Canada is not an isolated case, but rather an issue deeply rooted in society. »