The Freedom Tour

The Freedom Tour – DVD available now!

The Freedom Tour DVD.

About The Freedom Tour (from

Everything started on a cold February day when members from the People First Movement and their allies assembled at the Manitoba Legislature to raise awareness about the government’s decision to invest 40 million dollars into the Manitoba Developmental Centre (MDC), an institution where about 350 people labeled with an intellectual disability are still being warehoused.

During the rally, I decided to document the event and interview people about their views on deinstitutionalization. That was when I first met David Weremy, Valerie Wolbert, Richard Rustin, Patty Kubanowski, Terri-Lynn Johnson, Shelley Rattai and many other People First members that I would later come to know through the process of making The Freedom Tour.

The idea to make a film

A year later I went to a People First Winnipeg meeting to discuss the possibility of helping people tell their stories through video. It soon became apparent that closing institutions was high on People First’s priority list so we decided that we should work together on a longer piece about institutions. People First members made it clear that the film should include many stories and not just focus on one person. We took our idea to People First Manitoba where we got lots of support to make the film.

Westward From Manitoba!

As word got out about our film project, People First of Canada approached us to work together and to include Saskatchewan and Alberta in the documentary. People First Manitoba agreed that would be a good idea and so the film took on an entirely new dimension!

Working as a team

Starting in 2006, I worked closely with five People First members to develop ideas for the documentary. This way of working is sometimes called participatory video. Dave, Valerie, Kevin, Mark, Susie and I met weekly for over a year to share ideas, look at pictures and videos. One of the films we watched was How’s Your News? That’s how Kevin and Valerie got the idea to travel as a group to interview institution survivors across the Prairies. At that point, we had our basic idea for the film, a group of advocates traveling the Canadian Prairies to collect personal stories and raise public awareness about the need to close institutions and provide community living supports for all people.

Learning about filmmaking

Making a documentary is a lot of work, and none of the members had experience making films. In preparation for this big task, we decided to start by making short personal videos. Between January and March 2007, Valerie, David, Kevin, Mark and Susie worked on their video self-portraits. We got help from Erika MacPherson, a professional video artist, who helped us develop each piece visually. You can watch these videos from The Freedom Tour website [or right here].

We took advantage of provincial elections here in Manitoba to show the videos and invite candidates to talk about deinstitutionalization and supports for people with disabilities. The evening was a great success with over one hundred people in the audience and representatives from all parties present. This gave us confidence that using videos to raise awareness could be effective.

Getting ready for The Freedom Tour

We practiced answering questions from the media by talking with a community radio and newspaper journalists. We made lots of lists for all the video equipment, public awareness material and food we would need during our two-week trip across the Prairies. We booked motels, rented equipment, confirmed video screenings and interviews with survivors in all three provinces.

A national convoy

As our departure date got closer, the size of the convoy grew to include People First members from across Canada. Soon there were sixteen of us making our way across the Prairies to collect stories and to be part of the challenging work of making our documentary, The Freedom Tour. During the tour, we did in-depth interviews with eight survivors and over forty people shared their feelings and thoughts about institutions at our video booth events. People First members on the tour got the chance to interview institution survivors, family members and other wanting to speak out. Everybody played their part in supporting each other through a very demanding and emotional journey.

Sharing our message

Now that the documentary is finished our job is to make sure that as many people as possible get a chance to see it. We hope that The Freedom Tour will help people understand that no person should ever have to live in an institution regardless of the labels attached to them. As full Canadian citizens, people with intellectual disabilities have the right to choose who provides the supports, where to live and with whom.

by Josée Boulanger, Coordinator and Producer and Co-creators Valerie Wolbert, Susie Weiszmann, David Weremy, Kevin Johnson and Mark Blanchette. All rights reserved.

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