Filmmakers to tackle Agent Orange scandal
Published Monday March 9th, 2009
A group of New York moviemakers will settle into the Fredericton region for the next few weeks to film what it calls "Canada's dirty secret" to a worldwide audience.
Filmmakers Danny Feighery and Gregg de Domenico and two colleagues arrive in Fredericton today to work on their documentary about the lingering effects of the spraying of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.
They will remain until the April 1 deadline for the federal government's $20,000 ex-gratia compensation payments passes.
"It's such a bizarre story," said Feighery. "There's all these different qualifiers and rules and absurdities to it."
"The whole story seems to be pretty absurd. There's never been anything so massive in western civilization for a government to poison their own people on this scale."
He's personally invested in the story.
His grandfather was a member of the provost corps at CFB Gagetown - the precursor to the military police - so his mother Sharon grew up on the base, ate blueberries that had grown on the base and played there.
When his sister Theresa was born, she had spina bifida. It's a congenital defect of the spine, in which part of the spinal cord and the meninges are exposed through a gap in the backbone. The condition has been linked to exposure to Agent Orange and a whole host of other toxic chemicals that were sprayed on the base.
It wasn't until a family reunion last year in Nova Scotia where relatives talked about Agent Orange that Feighery's family began drawing possible links to his sister's spina bifida and exposure to toxic defoliants.
"No democracy has ever let half a million people be contaminated by a toxin and then never tell them about it and cover it up," he said.
De Domenico said the story deserves a wider audience.
"I'm curious about the story and I'd like to see somebody see this through to get some answers," he said. "I know, personally, I feel like - especially coming out of the Bush administration in the United States - we're all looking for some degree of accountability from our governments.
"I know I personally feel like I want to see transparency and I want to see fairness. I want to know we're not being taken advantage of by corporate interests."
They plan to delve into the involvement of chemical companies, the military and the government.
"We want to go further, looking into the factfinder's mission, the results of the factfinder's mission, how that affected Veterans Affairs and the compensation packages. Then straight into the compensation packages ending April 1 and where does everyone go from there," de Domenico said.
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson has said the April 1 deadline isn't absolute and if a late application is received, it will be considered.
Payments are also considered for primary caregivers of qualifying individuals who died on or after Feb. 6, 2006, the date the federal Conservative government took office.
Thankfully, he said, many people in the region have taken up the challenge of doing the research.
He just hopes to do them justice on the big screen.
"We're very much doing our best to tell their story."
"There's only so many times you can sit with them and hold their hands while they're crying, saying they feel left in the cold. I want to feel like we can get the word out and maybe bring some more attention to this."
And for de Domenico and Feighery, who have long worked making commercials and feature films, it's a chance to put their craft to a higher use.
"We want to get back to a place where filmmaking is about helping society and making a difference."
"What we really need now is to talk to politicians who understand the story and are sympathetic.''
The film is tentatively titled Gagetown: Canada's Dirty Secret. They hope to have an 80- to 90-minute film ready by later this spring, the deadline for entering the Toronto Film Festival.
Feighery and de Domenico have been keeping in touch with people involved with the movie through their website: www.gagetownmovie.com.