I was intrigued when I read about a high school girl, Elizabeth Moore, who had been recruited into the Heritage Front, a neo-nazi group in Toronto. She rose up in the ranks of the organization before she finally defected. I spent many hours interviewing Elizabeth trying to understand how she became caught up in that toxic movement and what happened to make her leave. I spoke to a number of members of the Heritage Front, including their patron saint, the infamous holocaust denier, Ernst Zundel.
The film, produced by my mentor, Phil Savath and overseen by the CBC’s Brian Freeman, is a chilling look at the extreme right in Canada and its appeal to young people. Directed with a very kinetic look by Kari Skogland, with extraordinary performances by Sarah Polley and Lynn Redgrave.
Robert Wagner Award for Best Screenplay
International Emmy and Gemini Finalist for Best Movie
We’ve become accustomed to two basic kinds of TV moviesMdash;trashy spinoffs ripped from talk-show headlines, with titles like Broken Dreams: The Springfield Cheerleader Murders, and earnest sermons designed to win prestige and award-show brownie points. So when a TV movie comes along that manages to inform and entertain with equal amounts of craft, subtlety and intelligence, it comes as something of a shock. White Lies (Sunday, 8 p.m. on CBC) is a shock in more ways than one. It asks a topical and disturbing question—how does a bright, attractive, middle-class girl from suburbia become a neo-fascist white supremacist?—and answers this question simply, while still being a solid, entertaining drama.
The issue of white supremacy and the allure of neo-Nazism for impressionable middle-class teenagers is certainly current. Just last weekend, the Okanagan town of Oliver was thrust into the media spotlight by a potential clash between anti-racists and members of the far right. The simmering debate centres on an Oliver-based Internet service provider being used by several ultra-right and anti-Semitic groups to disseminate hate literature in cyberspace.
The thorny issue of free speech versus the undisguised incitement of racism isn’t easily resolved. But there are longer-term, potentially more disturbing issues at stake. According to publicity handouts distributed in advance of White Lies‘ Sunday airing, one of the more unsettling aspects of so-called “Aryan hate rock” and white-power Websites is that, in recent years, the median age of the Neo-Nazi movement has dropped from 70 to 17. That’s a sobering statistic. But it is also the kind of dry, serious analysis that can weigh down a dramatic narrative in strident self-importance.
White Lies is compelling in part because the young actors at its core—Sarah Polley, Tanya Allen and Jonathan Scarfe—seem to buy so whole-heartedly into the white-power movement they are portraying. Polley, who in real life is an ardent NDP supporter, is a revelation as a bright-eyed, idealistic neo-fascist. Polley is an accomplished actress, as anyone who has seen her in films like The Sweet Hereafter and The Planet of Junior Brown knows. By playing so strongly against type and doing it with so much conviction, she has created one of her most unforgettable and chilling characters.
In The Telling of White Lies, the behind-the-scenes documentary that airs Friday (CBC at 7 p.m.), Vancouver-based producer Phil Savath, writer Dennis Foon and actress Lynn Redgrave speak candidly about the allure white supremacy holds for adolescents too young and uninformed to know when they are being hornswoggled.
“It’s fascinating, terrifying subject matter,” Redgrave says, explaining why she decided to play White Lies‘ supremacist matriarch. “All people with hearts of darkness, who commit terrible crimes, who are murderers and racists, are human beings who do what they do in the belief that they are right. “If this were on one of the big three networks in America, they would get terribly afraid and have to show—really, really show, right from the top—what terrible people the [supremacists] are. I liked the fact that this script doesn’t make them easy villains.”
—Alex Strachan, The Vancouver Sun