Every Vancouverite has a story about the Vancouver 2011 riot. This film is ours
Filmmakers Kay Jayme and Asia Youngman wanted to understand what they witnessed that day
Cutaways is a personal essay series where filmmakers tell the story of how their film was made. This Hot Docs 2023 edition by Kat Jayme and Asia Youngman focuses on their film I'm Just Here for the Riot, which takes a deeper look at what motivated the riots after the Vancouver Canucks' 2011 Stanley Cup loss.
Every Vancouverite has a story about the Vancouver 2011 riot. We can all recount exactly where we were and what we were doing when we saw smoke billowing from the downtown core and heard sirens going off across town.
In June 2011, I had just graduated from film school. I was excited and keen to get to work as a filmmaker, but like many new graduates, I didn't really know where to start. I'm a basketball fan (go Grizzlies!), but when the Canucks made the playoffs, I have to admit that even I got swept up in the magic and buzz. I bought a Canucks tee-shirt and went downtown to watch games and celebrate on the street after every win. Like the Olympics a year prior, I loved witnessing the power of sport and how it could bring the community together.
My friends and I watched the game at my house and I spent the entire three hours of the game yelling at the TV screen. The Canucks didn't just lose — they blew it. I was so upset with the outcome of the game that we went to the beach to shoot hoops so I could blow off some steam.
While we were there, we started hearing sirens and seeing smoke coming from downtown. There were rumours online about a riot downtown, so we rushed back home to find out what was going on. When we turned on the news, I was absolutely stunned to see what was happening: cars being flipped and set on fire, people breaking windows of department stores, fights breaking out, and a riot control team getting ready to face an angry mob. I couldn't understand what was happening.
The next day, I was still filled with so much emotion that I went downtown with the family camcorder to capture what was happening. I read online that there were volunteers going to help clean up the mess and knew I had to speak to them. I thought maybe they could help make sense of everything. After spending the morning capturing scenes of the cleanup, I knew that this was a story I needed to tell.
But when I began pitching this story — emailing my film professors to ask for advice on how to go about getting this project going — I soon learned no one was really interested. I believe this was because of two reasons: it was too soon to talk about this shameful day and I, being a new film graduate, still hadn't proven myself as a filmmaker.
So I shelved the idea and archived the "2011 riot doc" folder on my desktop. Until …
It was the evening of October 4, 2018 and I arrived at the DGC Canadian Directors Dinner feeling anxious. Would I know or recognize anyone when I arrived? I had only been in the industry for one year and my networking skills and confidence were lacking.
Little did I know, I wasn't the only one who was feeling this way. As soon as I walked into the entrance of the restaurant, I met Kat Jayme, another emerging female director from Vancouver who had also come to the event alone. We instantly gravitated toward one another and agreed to sit together.
In that moment, she became my friend; one month later, she would become my collaborator.
Kat and I met again for dinner in November. We shared our dreams, ambitions and the ideas that we had for future projects. One idea in particular made it to the forefront of our conversation: the 2011 Stanley Cup hockey riots.
It wasn't necessarily the story or subject matter that one would typically expect to emerge from the minds of a Filipina filmmaker and an Indigenous filmmaker, but we were completely fascinated with understanding why this had happened twice in our city. Not only had I been following the playoffs that year, but I was downtown on June 15th, 2011 when the riot broke out. I had vivid memories of the chaos and how things escalated on social media in the aftermath of that night.
As we discussed what kinds of themes the film could explore, we knew one thing for certain: it could be the perfect project for ESPN's 30 for 30 series. But it took us a few years to present the project to them. We navigated development applications, performed numerous pitches and received many rejections. Every broadcaster in Canada turned us down, which led us to explore partnerships in other countries. I workshopped the film through various initiatives, including the 4th World Media Lab, the DocSalon Toolbox Programme at the European Film Market and the Canada-Australia Documentary Co-Production Lab at the Australian International Documentary Conference.
As fate would have it, the former director of development at ESPN was also attending the same conference in Australia. I had the opportunity to pitch the film to him in February of 2020 before I flew home to Canada.
It was exactly one year later when we received an email from ESPN with our official greenlight. Our team was overjoyed — but now the real work was about to begin.
For anyone who has never co-directed a film, I can tell you that it's both a rewarding experience and a unique challenge. You have to run every idea by the other director and quickly learn how to compromise. You're balancing a shared vision with someone at the helm who likely has a different filmmaking process, creative style, work schedule, sleep schedule, personality and method of communication.
But there are many perks, too. You never feel alone. You get to bounce ideas off each other, confide in one another and balance the workload. We had incredible adventures, from watching the Northern lights in Yellowknife to hanging out in Jon Ronson's apartment in New York. The experience not only tested our friendship but also allowed us to grow as filmmakers and grasp the true meaning of collaboration.
Now, we're finally celebrating the world premiere of our documentary I'm Just Here for the Riot at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto. I'm immensely proud of our team and the four-and-a-half-year journey that led us to this moment. We hope this film challenges viewers to reflect on their own relationships and interactions with social media — and the mistakes that make us human.
I'm Just Here for the Riot screens at Hot Docs 2023 on Thursday, May 4.
This essay is part of CBC Arts's coverage of the 2023 Hot Docs Festival.