OVID.tv Presents A SILENT TRANSFORMATION Film Review – A Cooperative Way of Life

Editor’s Note: Find more OVID.tv film reviews here.

WHEN: June 16th

Perhaps what comes to mind when you think of a co-operative is the crunchy grocery store down the street, or a shared-living house in Brooklyn. In A Silent Transformation, a documentary about co-operative systems in Canada, co-ops represent more than just communal ownership; they are one of the most sustainable alternatives to the capitalist system. 

From non-competitive board games, to a coffee farm co-operative in Mexico, A Silent Transformation explores the myriad ways that co-operative systems can be manifested today and have been manifested in the past. We learn from this film that central to each co-op is the belief that community and cooperation form the foundation of a just and equitable society. 

This is especially true in places like London, Ontario, which is where the film begins. The camera brings us to many corners of the snowy town: a young boy plugs a screw into a skateboard at the local skateboard co-op; families gather at the Native Inter-Tribal Housing Co-op for a hearty meal; a man in a sweatshirt shows the camera crew around The Root Cellar, his organic restaurant in transition to becoming a worker-owned co-operative. As the film describes, London had once been a booming city, but with deindustrialization came a severe economic downturn; the town suddenly found itself abandoned by the factories and companies that had been their main job provider. Facing an economic crisis, the citizens of London decided to take matters into their own hands by creating co-ops throughout the city. These co-ops became the heart of London, providing many more job opportunities while building a strong sense of community. 

A Silent Transformation shows how co-ops often come together when a government fails its people. A girl sitting on the sunny stoop of her housing co-op explains that shared living makes housing much more affordable for all, and at the colorful West End Food Co-op, a few work shifts help to provide people with access to healthy, locally sourced food. Central to the co-operative arrangement is the belief that cooperation is a more viable practice than competition, which, as two separate interviewees state, is backed by the statistic that co-ops are two times more likely to survive than other businesses. 

As A Silent Transformation takes us to different corners of the co-operative world, you, like this reviewer, may find it difficult not to question the capitalist system. Leo Panitch, a professor emeritus of political science who makes frequent appearances throughout the documentary, points out that under capitalism many people who don’t work hard get paid millions, while people who do the hardest work get paid the least. A co-operative system, meanwhile, won’t win anyone extreme wealth, but it might provide a larger population of people with a good quality of life and a stable existence. 

As well as being intellectually compelling, A Silent Transformation is a wholly enjoyable viewing experience thanks to the deft camerawork, in this reviewer’s opinion. In one scene, we watch a man lean over the banister of the sunlit porch of his co-operative house to talk to someone on the sidewalk; in others, swooping aerial shots give us a bird’s-eye view of the rolling hills of Mexico and the streets of Ontario. With footage of vibrant vegetables at the food co-op and cluttered shelves at the cooperative board game store, this film is full of color and life. 

In accordance with their subject matter, A Silent Transformation was created without hierarchies, and the directing and editing were accomplished collectively. This documentary gives any viewer, from those who know and love co-ops to those who have never even thought about them, much to consider. As we face climate change, impending economic disaster, and severe wealth inequality, A Silent Transformation asks: If the system we live in is broken, are co-ops the solution? 


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Writers: Simon Brothers, Luke Mistruzzi, Anton Smolski and Mark Preston

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Nell Beck
Nell Beck

About the Author: Nell Beck

Nell Beck is a rising senior at Oberlin College, where she is pursuing a BA in English. At school, she is co-editor of the literary nonfiction magazine and eats in a dining co-op. Raised in Montclair, New Jersey, she is passionate about books, art, and writing. Looking ahead, she hopes to pursue an arts-related career, travel a lot, and become a better baker.

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