I’m Just Here for the Riot
(Canada, 78 min.)
Dir. Kathleen Jayme, Asia Youngman
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World premiere)
Why would thousands of hockey fans riot because their team lost? I’m Just Here for the Riot is loaded with information about the disturbing havoc wreaked by Vancouver Canucks fans when their team lost game seven of the Stanley Cup finals to the Boston Bruins in 2011 but the essential question goes unanswered.
Nevertheless, there’s lots to appreciate here. Directors Jayme (The Grizzlie Truth) and Youngman (This Ink Runs Deep) talked to some of those who looted and plundered, city police and fire fighters who tried to stop them and academics trying to make sense of it all. The rioters, looking back 10 years later, are properly appalled by their actions, which led to 150 people being injured, hundreds of shattered windows and fires and many cars destroyed. Thanks to the thousands of videos taken people in the street and posted online, the rioters paid for it, some by having to go court, others by the ferocious online hate that came their way.
This last is an essential component of the film. In 2011, people taking selfies of themselves in front of burning cars and broken windows weren’t aware that the images could be used against them; the fact that nothing dies on the internet hadn’t sunk in. This is one of the reasons why the Vancouver eruption has been dubbed the first smartphone riot. Another is that immediately after the riot, Robert Gorcak created the website Vancouver Riot Pics so shooters could post their photos. In turn, police, as a key component to their investigation, actively–and I mean actively; they advertised–encouraged those who were shooting to share their images with the authorities.
A third and quite disturbing factor is that many sociologists and media researchers noticed that rioters often amped up their destructive behaviour for the express purpose of getting their pictures taken. Riffing off the theme that people documenting a scene can change it, filmmaker Thom Stitt, who operated his camera as the riot intensified, wonders whether his mere presence with a camera might have fed the frenzy.
Watching the film is an emotional experience. The images of the rioters are vivid and upsetting. The reactions of the chastened rioters can generate a spasm of compassion, until they start complaining about the online bullying, which they don’t think they deserved. While it’s true that in the heat of the moment, they may not be thinking about how high-profile images would affect their life prospects, that feels a bit rich.
What’s missing here is any analysis investigating why Canadians’ obsession with hockey could lead to a full-scale riot. Montrealers hit the streets when Canadiens’ Maurice Richard was suspended in 1955 but in those days, that explosion was deeply political and about French-Canadian identity. This was nothing but fans staying true to a team full of players who would decamp to another city if the price was right. But fans stayed true blue to the end. That issue goes untouched here. Maybe because sports media conglomerate ESPN is a producer?
I’m Just Here for the Riot screens at Hot Docs 2023.
Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.