Monday, 16 June 2014

Ottawa Screening of 'The Change Agents'

On June 3rd, 80 people attended a screening of the movie The Change Agents (2012) in Ottawa, Ontario.

This full length movie (~90 minutes) produced by the secondary school in Nelson, B.C., uses 6 archival news photos of Freedomites to introduce fictional characters who protest against environmental pollution. Nudity and burning is shown, and bombing is joked about.

L to R: Elizabeth May (MP leader of the Green Party), Robyn
Sheppard (Writer/Director), Cathy Orlando (National Manager,
Canada's Citizen Climate Lobby), Sarah Miller Hayward (Producer),
and Alex Atamanenko (MP for BC Southern Interior)

The event was supported by Canada's Citizen Climate Lobby (CCCL) and coordinated by MP Alex Atamanenko and his office, to lobby Parliament during Environment Week. Most of the audience, including myself, were climate activists from Ontario, 8 were Parliamentarians (17 had RSVP'd), and 4 who made the movie (2 actors, a producer, and the writer/director) came from Nelson, B.C.

Atamanenko represents the riding (electoral district) were the movie was made. In October 2011, he visited the school during production and announced it to Parliament.

From about 70 volunteer amateur actors recruited from the Nelson area to make the movie, 2 attended.

English actors for Deda and Ruby.
Mike Coons (who played grandfather, deda) told me that he served briefly in the military before becoming a carpenter and plumber in Nelson; and he worked closely with local Doukhobor workers on the Kootenay River dam projects. Lucy Carver Brennan (Ruby) was in Grade 6 in Nelson when she auditioned.

Though the production notes showed 4 actors with Russian surnames, 3 appeared in the movie and only one had a speaking role. Ryan Hayward (played by Dylan Zaitsoff) is the main antagonist who verbally abuses and harasses the star character, Carly Dutoff, a fictional descendant of Freedomites (played by Susannah Rebar). The notes also show 4 characters with Russian surnames, all played by English actors.

The movie opened in Nelson on February 2nd, 2013, was shown at the USCC Doukhobor Brilliant Cultural Center (Feb 16th, 2013) and a few places in North America and Europe. The film has been translated into several languages and is online in Spanish.

A co-producer and now owner of the movie, Sarah Miller Hayward told me that she had film experience in Hollywood and Toronto before coming to Nelson, BC. Next, she and Jo Ann Lowell (Executive Producer) are going to Toronto to seek support to promote the film to a larger audience. Many participants hope the movie will boost their careers.

Prior to the screening, I presented my comments (excerpt):
BUT, as a Doukhobor historian, the movie immediately troubled and shocked me. The opening scene shows sensational archival news footage of nudity and burnings by a small group of Freedomites, which is a breakaway faction from the Doukhobors. Their actions are not the same as the Doukhobors, resulting in confusion and discrimination.
Freedomites terrorized Canadian society expressing their displeasure with government. Doukhobors have never supported their extremist actions, and have greatly suffered whenever they were and are falsely presented as Freedomites.
Robyn Sheppard, writer/director
I presented a copy of Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living to Robyn Sheppard, writer/director, who did not know that the small number of sensationalized Freedomites were not Doukhobors. She apologized for any misconceptions due to her script. She said her main intent was to highlight the urgency and importance of the environmental issues to world health.

She grew up in the Toronto area, but 18 years ago moved to the West Kootenays where she taught drama at the Mount Sentinnel High School in the Slocan Valley near Nelson, British Columbia, and met many local Doukhobor students.

When asked if she will correct the mistakes, Producer Hayward said that she would 'have a look at it.'


Koozma J. Tarasoff. 'The Sons of Freedom — a Flashback to 1956: Origins, problems, misconceptions, and relationship to Doukhobors.' — Updated reprint of "The 'Sons of Freedom'," The Inquirer (Vol. 3, No. 5, June 1956: 9-13).

Canada's Citizens Climate Lobby. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy group that trains and supports volunteers to engage elected officials and the media for generating the political will to find solutions for climate change. There are 170 CCL chapters in North America covering over 40 ridings in Canada and more than half the congressional districts in the USA.

Spirit-Wrestlers Blog: Selling Freedomites as Doukhobors is False Advertising

Error in the 'Change Agents' movie end credits — "An Angel Flew at Midnight", United in Song (2009 album), Performed by: The Victoria Doukhobor Group, should say "Performed by: The Victoria Island Doukhobor Community Association (VIDCA), with the Vision of Peace Youth Choir, Castlegar, B.C."


  1. Not having seen the film, it is difficult to envision the connection between the Sons of Freedom and environmental concerns, though I presume there is one, and the sensationalistic content is to be the magnet which draws our attention to the environment.
    Koozma makes a compelling case for the distinction between Doukhobors and the Sons of Freedom [who presumably relinquished Doukhobor status with their first anti-social violence] EXCEPT for one statement where he says: '' . . . mainstream Doukhobors . . . ' which might imply that the Sons of Freedom may be the NOT mainstream Doukhobors.
    I too have written about this distinction and negative publicity caused by Sons of Freedom actions in a paper presented at the Learned Conference in Calgary in 1994 entitled Doukhobors and the media:

  2. Cathy Orlando, Canada's Citizens Climate Lobby, Sudbury, Ontario17 June 2014 at 11:20

    Thanks for the clarification of the Doukhobors and Freedomites ... I hope that your ongoing dialogue with The Change Agents team yields the mutually agreeable results.

  3. Lyn Adamson, Ottawa, Ontario17 June 2014 at 20:19

    Hi Koozma,
    I bought 3 copies of the film because I liked it A LOT. I do hear your concerns about misrepresentation of Doukhobor traditions. I plan to give a preface anytime I might show the film to explain: it's not accurate to mix up the Freedomites with the Doukhobors so please be aware that these are separate groups even though the film mixes them up.
    I have great respect for the Doukhobor tradition, and know that Quakers worked to bring Doukhobors here - the pacifist ones. And I know what it's like to have your religion mixed up with terrorists. Though as Quakers we haven't had to deal with it many of my Muslim friends have. We need to be careful and I do hope the film makers will at the least insert a note at the beginning of the film to clarify the difference. there should be some response to your concerns.

  4. Not gonna lie, I kinda think this article is for the most part making something out of nothing. I worked on the film and am of Doukhobor heritage and honestly found nothing wrong with it. It's a work of fiction leave it at that. I kinda think this is just something you Koozma to stir up some sort of controversy to cause trouble for Alex in order to swing some of the older crowd to go back to the conservatives, or this is you trying to spark controversy to sell your book. Either way just leave the film alone. It was something made by students under guidance of community members who are specialists in their fields, just celebrate that it was done.

  5. Virginia Svetlikov, Kelowna. BC27 June 2014 at 19:26

    Ms. Sheppard
    I have waited some time before writing to you because my anger and disgust with your movie was so intense I did not trust myself to be civil to you. Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! How dare you write something so disgusting, so horrendous, while not having any of the facts, not having learned anything of the true history, but have taken your information, from what we can all only gather, from a misguided media frenzy which breeds itself on sensationalism, and you lacked integrity and quicly joined their ranks.

    Nothing in your movie portrays any truth to any of the history of the Doukhobors or the Zealots/Terrorists better known as the Sons of Freedom.

    We, those of us who are the Orthodox Doukhobors, lived through the horror of those times, we were terrorized by the Sons of Freedom, we were threatened not only by the Sons of Freedom, but by the government and their enforcers, and by those who spurned the Freedomites on. We were burned out, bombed out and branded for life by the likes of you and the media that portrayed all of us as one group. Shame on you! Shame on you!

    You cannot justify yourself as a writer, a film maker or anyone resembling any of those because you haven't researched your material. You can hide behind technicalities and other mumbo jumbo, but you cannot hide from those of us who know the truth and who paid the price, some of us with our lives.

    Shame on you! I will take this movie and blaspheme it world-wide and expose it for the lies that it contains.

    I do not require a response because there is little you can say to justify your actions.