Montreal

Netflix won't remove images of Lac-Mégantic rail disaster from Bird Box

Netflix says footage of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster used to depict a fictional disaster in its popular movie Bird Box will not be removed, despite residents in the Quebec town saying it trivializes the tragedy.

Spokesperson for the town says Netflix reached out, asking for meeting with mayor Thursday

A second Netflix original, Bird Box, appears to use footage from the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. (Netflix/CBC Montreal)

Netflix says footage of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster used to depict a fictional disaster in its popular movie Bird Box will not be removed, despite residents in the Quebec town saying it trivializes the tragedy.

Bird Box is the second production confirmed on the streaming site to have used the dramatic footage, showing the aftermath of the train derailment and massive explosion that killed 47 people and devastated the community in 2013.

"It's the use of those specific images," said Marie-Claude Arguin, deputy city manager for Lac-Megantic in an interview with CBC's As It Happens.

"Unfortunately, they will be, for us here, forever ingrained in our mind and we can recognize them immediately, and then they are being used as if they are happening somewhere else. That's where it's difficult to see."

Karine Dubé, a spokesperson for the town of Lac-Mégantic, said Netflix reached out to municipal officials and requested a meeting with the mayor on Thursday.

Another Netflix production, Travelers, also used the footage in a recent episode.

The production company behind that show, Peacock Alley Entertainment, has since apologized, saying in a statement it "had no intention to dishonour the tragic events of 2013," and that it will try to replace the images.

Purchased from stock footage company

The images in Bird Box and Travelers were shot on a cellphone the night of the disaster and sold by Pond5, a stock footage company.

The company's CEO, Jason Teichman, said that while Pond5 can't police how all its footage is used, the company is now working to ensure its customers understand the context behind the images it sells.

"Something as sensitive as that and as tragic as that, we should have taken greater efforts to make sure that the true character of that story was represented, and we didn't live up to our own goals," he said in an interview.

"We could have done more."

Teichman says the Lac-Mégantic footage on Pond5 was submitted by one of the company's collaborators, but he would not name the person for privacy reasons.

Pascal Marchand sells news footage to stock websites. (CBC)

Pascal Marchand makes a living gathering and selling footage of news stories, including some of the Lac-Mégantic train disaster, to news organizations and production companies.

He said it's common for such footage to be used for entertainment purposes.

"Let's say they need a car on fire, then you can hire a team of firemen, production crew, sound guy; buy a car, set it on fire. But this costs so much money," he said.

"Or you can buy online a clip of a car that's burning for only $200."

Marchand, who has a fire department scanner and two computers filled with footage he's gathered or acquired from collaborators at his West Island home office, says the controversy won't deter him from continuing to sell news footage on stock websites. 

Removing footage 'no-brainer,' says pop culture expert

However, Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says the controversy surrounding the use of the Lac-Mégantic footage should serve as a cautionary tale for production companies. 

He says they will want to think twice before using news footage in shows and movies depicting fiction. 

"I think the context in which one uses those has to be looked at very carefully ... from an ethical standard."

Thompson said it should have been a "no-brainer" for the footage to be removed from Bird Box.

"If it was a movie based on this event of 2013, I can see many situations where using news coverage and actual footage would be appropriate, even if it were fictionalized and dramatized," Thompson said Wednesday on CBC Radio's The Current. 

"To take pictures of a town exploding and people who have died … as a way to plug in something that looks like an apocalyptic event, I think that's something entirely different."

About the Author

Alison Northcott is a national reporter for CBC News in Montreal.

With files from Jessica Rubinger

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