Dearest Ones (Video Essay)

Geneticist, activist and broadcaster David Suzuki offers words of wisdom for his grandchildren — and younger generations

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Written and narrated by David Suzuki
Excerpted from "Letters to My Grandchildren" (Greystone Books, 2015)
Recorded by Sound Kitchen Visuals Provided by ShutterStock Music
Composed by Moby/Moby Gratis
Special thanks to Greystone Books, David Suzuki Foundation and Jocelyn Bell
© UC Observer 2017

Stolen Mother (Short Documentary)

On April 14, 1998, Sarah Jean de Vries went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her daughter, Sarah Jeanie, was seven years old at the time. She was living with her adoptive grandmother Pat in Guelph, Ont. because of her mother's struggles with addiction and work in the sex trade. In 2002, Sarah Jean's DNA was discovered on a Port Coquitlam, B.C., farm that belonged to Robert Pickton, one of the most notorious serial killers in Canada's history. An estimated 90 percent of the country's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women were mothers like Sarah Jean de Vries. Canada has now launched an MMIW inquiry.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Videographed by Merle Robillard
Researched by Kristy Woudstra
Music Composed by Podington Bear/Free Music Archive
© UC Observer 2017

A Shoulder To Lean On (Video Essay)

Geneticist, activist and broadcaster David Suzuki offers words of wisdom for his grandchildren — and younger generations

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Written and narrated by Sheima Benembarak
Recorded by David Wallen
Visuals provided by Shutterstock
Music ("Blue Paper") by Moby/Moby Gratis
©UC Observer 2017

Out of Syria (Short Documentary)

In February 2016, 19 members of the Elnabrees family arrived as refugees in Canada — mostly from Syria. The Elnabreeses were sponsored by relatives and seven United Church congregations participating in Canada's refugee sponsorship program. The Elnabreeses are Palestinian. For nearly half a century, the family has fled one war after another: Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq and, more recently, Syria. Most were born as refugees and have remained stateless until now. Ayman Elshafiy, a member of the Elnabrees family through marriage, has resettled in Hamilton, Ontario, along with his wife, Sonia, their two daughters, his sister and mother. The family receives support from the United Church refugee sponsorship team in the Hamilton area.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Filmed by Merle Robillard, Andrew Lau and Jon Blacker
Edited by Merle Robillard and Andrew Lau
Music by CommercialMusic, Alexis Messier, Lost Harmonies, Dan Phillipson and Big Score Audio
© UC Observer 2016

Beyond Ferguson (Short Documentary)

In August 2014, the world watched as a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, exploded in outrage over the police shooting of an 18-year-old. In her own words, St. Louis-based writer Alicia von Stamwitz describes the tragedy and its aftermath.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Narrated by Alicia von Stamwitz
Stock footage by Getty Images
Music by Moby/MobyGratis
Special thanks to KETC/V9 Studios/PBS
© UC Observer 2015

First World War Centenary (Short Documentary)

This year marks 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. The end result of competing imperial ambitions and a web of alliances, the war involved 30 countries, namely the armed forces of France, Great Britain, Russia, Canada and the United States arrayed against those of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Narrated by Harvey Gold and Jacqui Underwood
Stock footage by ShutterStock and Getty Images
Music courtesy of Moby/MobyGratis
Research from Veterans Affairs Canada, The Independent and The Telegraph
Poetry by John McCrae, Robert Laurence Binyon, Siegfriend Sassoon, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Wilfred Owen and Moina Michael
© UC Observer 2014

New Hope for Congo (Short Documentary)

After two successive wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 1996 and 2003, armed groups, such as M23, have fought each other and the DRC army for power and natural resources. The on-and-off conflicts have resulted in 2.4 million people being internally displaced and widespread human rights abuses: unlawful arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. But there are signs of hope, including a commitment to fair elections, according to Bishop Dieudonné Mbaya Tshiakany, of the DRC's Church of Christ. He recently visited Canada to talk about his country’s road to healing.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Videographed and edited by Merle Robillard
Interview by Chantal Braganza
Footage by Getty Images and Shutterstock
Statistics by Amnesty International
Music by Free Music Archive
© UC Observer 2014

My Year of Buying Nothing (Short Documentary)

After some soul-searching about what buying really adds up to, UC Observer blogger Lee Simpson made a promise to purchase nothing for 365 days. But while her reasons are clear as she approaches the halfway mark, the vow to change is a little more complicated.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Videographed and edited by BADFUNmedia.com
Music by Peter Miller/Getty Images
© UC Observer 2014

Through the Cracks (Short Documentary)

People with developmental disabilities are finding new independence in community living. But demand for supportive housing far outstrips the supply.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spugaitis
Videographed and edited by Jill Kitchener
Music by Chris Stafford
© UC Observer 2014

Study War (Video Essay)

Each year, on Nov. 11, Canadians commemorate those who died in service to Canada from the South African War to current conflicts. The first Remembrance Day was conducted in 1919. Originally called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of the First World War. Last century was the most violent in history, with more than 203 million killed in wars — more than all the preceding centuries combined. In today's armed conflicts, fewer than 10 percent of casualties are soldiers and more than 90 percent are civilians — half of which are children. Eighty percent of the world's 20 poorest countries have suffered from a major conflict in the past 15 years. Global military spending is now 170 times greater than spending on the most basic education. At the beginning of the 21st century, international terrorism has become a major focus of defence policies. Meanwhile, 30,000 nuclear weapons continue to be held by nine countries. More than 1,500 of them are ready to launch at a moment's notice.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Stock footage by RevoStock/ShutterStock
Music courtesy of MobyGratis
Research from the University of Oxford
and Greenpeace International
© UC Observer 2013

Green House (Our House Doc Series)

Matt Gilgan is the eldest son of billionaire homebuilder Peter Gilgan, who started Mattamy Homes in 1978. But, after serving his father’s company for more than two decades, the environmentally conscious Gilgan left Mattamy to lead a life that was more ‘green.’ In 2008, he and his wife, Annette, purchased a 19th century stucco-clad worker’s cottage in Oakville, Ont. While preserving the building’s heritage elements, Gilgan put into practice cutting-edge sustainable ideas. The home has walls made of straw bale and sealed with earthen plaster. It has a large passive-solar element, a geothermal system, radiant floors and plenty of recycled material all around. In addition to repurposed wood, some parts of the floors are clad with local clay, straw bits and sand. In one way, Gilgan's "green house" is an experiment in environmental friendliness. In another, it’s an example of an uber-modern living space.

Duration: 10 minutes
Year: 2014
Genre: Non-fiction
Director/Editor: Kevin Spurgaitis
Shooter: Merle Robillard
Producer: Ian Daffern

© UC Observer 2014

L'Arche House (Our House Doc Series)

There are now more than one million Canadian children, youth and adults living with autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome – the vast majority having left government-operated residences in recent years, as provinces moved away from an institution-based system to a community-based one that promotes “inclusion, independence and choice.” 

One of the first to espouse this “community model” of living, L’Arche has created homes and day programs for people who have intellectual disabilities since the 1960s. Supported by donors and sponsors, L’Arche recognizes the ability of people who have disabilities to welcome and accept others simply as they are. Each of its communities around the world consists of a small number of households, where each person participates in decision-making and contributes however they can. In a L’Arche Toronto house, for instance, core members like Janet Monroe, and assistants and house leaders like Danielle Hidber, share equally in the responsibility for the life of their home — and that of their community.

Duration: 10 minutes
Year: 2015
Genre: Non-fiction
Director/Editor: Kevin Spurgaitis
Shooter: Merle Robillard
Field Producer: Jennifer Wilson
Producer: Ian Daffern
Unit Manager: Irene Kassapidis
Senior Producer: John Buffone
Executive Producer: Mark Sikstrom
Producer – Paul Gardner
Editor: Chris Brooks
Editor: Jason Ward
Graphics – Clint Lavado
Volunteer Coordinator – Nikki Sandhu Patel
Special thanks to Mike Wilson
© UC Observer 2015

Boat House (Our House Doc Series)

Making only when the winter season changes, many of Toronto’s boaters can be found toiling away on their sailing crafts at Marina Quay West and Marina Four. But some choose to live on the city’s water straight through until spring — or even year-round — despite the many challenges of staying aboard their vessels. Some of these ‘liveaboards’ are dead-keen sailors while others, like Steven and Elizabeth Rose, simply do it because they enjoy a lifestyle that’s radically different from house- and condo-dwellers’ — financially, spiritually and environmentally. 

Duration: 10 minutes
Year: 2015
Genre: Non-fiction
Director/Editor: Kevin Spurgaitis
Shooter: Merle Robillard
Producer: Ian Daffern
© UC Observer 2015

Tiny House (Our House Doc Series)

As the economy and changing mortgage rules continue to squeeze homeowners in the Greater Toronto Area, people like Kat Walters and Matthew Davey are responding with their own incredibly shrinking homes. Indeed, such 'tiny houses' are making housing more affordable. But they’re also more environmentally friendly. It’s part of an architectural and social movement that advocates living smaller and simply— in some cases, as few as 80 square feet.

Duration: 10 minutes
Year: 2015
Genre: Non-fiction
Director/Editor: Kevin Spurgaitis
Shooter: Merle Robillard
Producer: Ian Daffern

© UC Observer 2015

Gordon Lightfoot (Interview)

Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot is a Canadian musical icon. This past February, the former choirboy talked to minister Karen Hilfman Millson before a live audience at his home congregation of St. Paul's United in Orillia, Ont.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Interview by Karen Hilfman Millson
Videographed by Tyler Knight
Recorded by Bruce Clark
Additional video courtesy of BBC,
"Early Morning Rain," written and performed by Gordon Lightfoot, EMI Music
© UC Observer 2013

Reconciling to a Hard Truth (Short Documentary)

A historic settlement agreement promised closure for residential school survivors. But no one thought it would open the floodgates to thousands of new abuse claims.

Produced and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Edited by Ian Daffern
Narrated by Harvey Gold
Photos by The United Church of Canada Archives
Additional photos by Canadian Press and Richard Wright
Music provided by Joshua Cipolla/ RevoStock

Sources: Observer files, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Assembly of First Nations, Aboriginal Healing Foundation, The United Church of Canada, United Church Publishing House, Statistics Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Toronto Star and the CBC
© UC Observer 2012

An Ill Wind (Short Documentary)

The Dutch were among the first to embrace the green promise of turbines. But wind energy has started to lose momentum in Holland while causing controversy in Canada.

Videographed & edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Researched by Lisa Van de Ven
Additional video by RevoStock
Music by Ilya Kaplan & Stan Fomin
© UC Observer 2013

End-of-life Ethics (Interviews)

Against the backdrop of an aging population, advances in medical technology and looming legal battles, eight Winnipeg faith leaders discuss the spiritual nuances of assisted dying

Videographed and edited by Kevin Spurgaitis
Moderated by David Wilson
Music by Vladimir Ostapets/RevoStock
Additional video by RevoStock
© UC Observer 2012