SQUAT! It wasn't so very long ago that the word was completely unknown in Quebec. SQUAT! It's an imperative, a necessary act of reappropriation that defies the laws of the marketplace, which posits private property as an inalienable right. Since lodging is the object of speculation rather than a fundamental right in our capitalist society, the squat offers an immediate solution for those who must fulfill the basic need of housing themselves without ever having been given the means. But the squat offers more than just a roof: it gives life back to abandoned, decrepit buildings; it creates a space of giving and mutual aid; it fosters collective action and self-management; it seeks self-sufficiency in the face of rampant consumerism; it generates artistic events and alternative political activities; it engenders an open community-oriented lifestyle; and it enables the exercise of true citizenship.
When I was invited to the Préfontaine squat on Rachel street to present my documentary on women squatters in Europe (Des squatteureuses, 1988), I discovered one of the all-too-rare examples of a Montreal political squat. There, I found the kind of freedom and solidarity that I'd only ever before seen in squats in Geneva, Toulouse, Amsterdam or New York. The Préfontaine squat lodged some fifty persons from a wide range of backgrounds who, in the beginning, had neither the expectation of living together nor any previous experience in organized squatting. At the time of my arrival, the squatters were already having to confront the adversity of the municipal administration and the Mayor, in concert with the opposition party. The squatters' home was literally under siege by TV news cameras who circled like so many vultures, looking for their daily scrap.
Since the squatters' struggle for the right to housing struck me as entirely legitimate and essential, it occurred to me that I should tell their story through film. The squatters, who wanted their version of things to be made public, agreed to show what life was like inside the walls. The filming of SQUAT! unfolded quite naturally, getting a close-up view of its subjects, much like in cinéma vérité. I also spent much time inside the squat with the camera turned off, just being there with the occupants, talking with them, taking part in their activities and struggle. I had the great privilege of meeting extraordinary people who questioned me, moved me and marked me forever.
Obviously, my documentary makes no claims to represent the full diversity and complexity of this collective endeavor. But at least SQUAT! sets the facts straight on a story that received heavy-and completely biased-media coverage. SQUAT! chronicles the main events affecting the fate of the squat through the voices of the squatters themselves-voices that were completely eclipsed during the occupation. The authorities never gave the squatters the time promised to them, which would have allowed them to organize themselves and bring their project to term. The documentary was completed, but the story it relates should have ended differently. SQUAT! was produced as a testimony to what really happened in the summer of 2001 in Montreal. It is my hope that the film generates reflection on ending social injustice and oppression, creating instead a society that's open to dissidence, one that grants utopians and the poor the right to be.