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Translators and interpreters help save lives. La traduction et l’interprétation au service de l’humanité. October 5, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada, cultural industries, Disaster aid, Disaster zones, Language industries, NGOs.
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Whether in disaster zones or aiding NGOs carry out their crucial tasks, linguists play a crucial role in ensuring communication flows freely for those in distress.

To highlight this lesser-known aspect of the business, Glendon College in Toronto invited two guest speakers in honour of International Translation Day on September 28: Henry Dotterer, founder of the online translation agency Pro-Z and board member of Translators Without Borders; and Lola Bendana, president of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Two Canadians have founded or helped direct organizations to do just that. Lori Thicke, a Torontonian working in Paris, founded Translators Without Borders in 1993 after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) approached her for a quote. She decided to provide the humanitarian work for free. As Henry Dotterer tells it, MSF answered they had a budget to pay the work. Thicke replied that the money could be used to provide more vaccine, which was the subject of the work to be translated.

Since that time, TWB has attracted 678 volunteers to its database. Translators are screened through a rigorous testing process before they gain admission. After that, it’s up to the humanitarian organizations and volunteers to find each other and agree on projects. Amongst the NGOs served are Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Enfants du monde and GoodPlanet. After the earthquake in Haïti, volunteers helped translate documents on how to manage clinics where amputations are performed; and how to treat shock and trauma. TWB supports about 40 active clients. Its next mission: to expand into Africa and help build the translation industry there, for local languages as well as better-known ones.

Meanwhile, Lola Bendana, the Toronto-based president of the IMIA, helps coordinate efforts to reach out to disaster victims worldwide. The IMIA is an advocacy organization founded in 1986, representing 70 languages, 2,000 members and 11 countries and dedicated to professionalizing medical interpretation. A Glendon College English-Spanish translation programme graduate, Bendana usually opposes the idea of translators and interpreters working for nothing. However, humanitarian work is a crucial exception. Through its Disaster Relief Interpreter Database, the IMIA puts volunteer medical interpreters in touch with NGOs and other organization working in natural catastrophy zones.

The initiative was born from the Haïti earthquake in January 2010. For seven weeks, the Comfort Hospital Ship ministered to patients; however, the first volunteers were non-professionals who did not have any in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, which proved problematic. As a result, the Red Cross approached the IMIA for help. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 provided another unfortunate opportunity to lend assistance, as Japanase IMIA representative Kazumi Takesako organized a group of volunteer interpreters and reached out to translators as well. The latter were needed to help with documents concerning nuclear problems at the Fukushima plant. Takesako had vowed to prevent tragedies such as the case of a mother in a previous earthquake who lost her baby

Interpretation can be wrenching for other reasons. Bendana is of Nicaraguan origin and was studying in Costa Rica when she was sent to the border to assist Nicaraguan refugees. Her professors had advised all student interpreters to explain to the refugees they should lay out the political reasons for their asylum claims. However, the refugees would say they had trouble feeding their children. They feared being killed if they told the truth: not being allowed to work and having parcels of land confiscated, Bendana said.


Que ce soit dans les zones de catastrophe ou en aidant les ONG à effectuer leurs tâches essentielles, les linguistes jouent un rôle indispensable au niveau de la libre communication entre les personnes en détresse et les organismes de sauvetage.

Afin de mieux faire connaître cet aspect de l’industrie, le Collège Glendon à Toronto a invité un conférencier et une conférencière à l’occasion de la Journée internationale de la traduction le 28 septembre : Henry Dotterer, fondateur de l’agence de traduction en ligne Pro-Z et membre du conseil de Traducteurs sans frontières; et Lola Bendana, présidente de l’association internationale des interprètes médicaux et médicales, la International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Deux Canadiennes ont soit fondé, soit aidé à diriger des organismes à faire exactement cela. Lori Thicke est Torontoise basée à Paris et a lancé Traducteurs sans frontières en 1993 après que Médecins sans frontières (MSF) l’ait approchée pour qu’elle leur fasse un prix. Elle a décidé plutôt de fournir le travail humanitaire gratuitement. Comme le raconte Henry Dotterer, MSF a répondu qu’on avait le budget pour le travail. Thicke a répondu que l’argent pourrait servir à fournir davantage de vaccins, le sujet même du travail à traduire.

Depuis, TSF a attiré 678 bénévoles à sa base de données. On évalue des traducteurs à l’aide d’un rigoureux processus d’examen, après quoi il en revient aux organismes humanitaires et aux bénévoles de se retrouver et de s’accorder sur les projets. Les ONG qui profitent du service comprennent Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, la fondation Fais-Un-Vœu, Enfants du monde et GoodPlanet.  Suite au tremblement de terre d’Haïti, des bénévoles ont aidé à traduire des documents sur la gestion des cliniques où on effectuait des amputations; et sur le traitement du traumatisme et du trauma. TSF appuie environ 40 clients actifs. Son prochain défi est d’offrir davantage de services en Afrique et d’aider à y bâtir l’industrie de la traduction, tant pour les langues locales que pour celles qui sont mieux connues.

De son côté, Lola Bendana, la présidente torontoise de l’IMIA, aide à coordonner les efforts effectués pour rejoindre les victimes de catastrophes partout dans le monde. L’IMIA est un organisme de revendication, fondé en 1986, voué à la professionnalisation de l’interprétation médicale. Il regroupe 2 000 membres de 11 pays parlant 70 langues. Diplômée du programme de traduction de l’anglais vers l’espagnol du Collège Glendon, Bendana s’oppose habituellement à l’idée du travail gratuit pour les traducteurs et interprètes. Cependant, le travail humanitaire est une exception fondamentale. Par le biais de sa base de données d’interprètes pour le secours des personnes sinistrées, l’IMIA permet aux interprètes médicaux et médicales bénévoles de communiquer avec les ONG et autres organismes oeuvrant en zone sinistrée.

L’initiative est née du séisme haïtien de janvier 2010. Pendant sept semaines, le navire hospitalier Comfort a soigné les sinistrés; cependant, les premiers bénévoles n’avaient pas de formation professionnelle et ne connaissaient pas la terminologie médicale, ce qui a occasionné des ennuis. Donc, la Croix-Rouge a approché l’IMIA pour demander de l’aide. Le séisme et tsunami au Japon en mars 2011 a fourni une autre malheureuse occasion de prêter secours : la représentante japonaise de l’IMIA, Kazumi Takesako, a organisé un groupe d’interprètes bénévoles et a également demandé l’aide des traducteurs. Ces derniers étaient nécessaires à la traduction de documents concernant les problèmes nucléaires à l’installation de Fukushima. Takesako avait juré d’empêcher les tragédies futures semblables à celles d’une mère qui avait perdu son enfant au cours d’un séisme antérieur, parce que les secouristes ne voyaient pas le bébé et ne comprenaient pas ce qu’elle disait pour les avertir.

Le métier d’interprète peut s’avérer déchirant pour d’autres raisons. Bendana est nicaraguayenne d’origine et faisait ses études au Costa Rica lorsqu’elle a été envoyée à la frontière pour venir en aide aux réfugiés du Nicaragua. Ses professeurs avaient avisé tous les interprètes aux études d’expliquer aux réfugiés qu’ils devaient donner des raisons politiques pour leur demandes d’asile. Cependant, les réfugiés disaient qu’ils éprouvaient des difficultés à nourrir leurs enfants. Ils craignaient se faire tuer s’ils disaient la vérité : soit qu’on ne leur permettait pas de travailler et qu’on leur confisquait leurs lopins de terre, a dit Bendana.

TIFF and the political economy of Canadian film September 28, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in cultural industries, film and global distribution oligopolies.
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To many, the Toronto International Film Festival is now second only to Cannes in terms of importance and star power. It may in fact be gaining ground on its venerable French rival. The dizzying array of Hollywood mega-celebrities on hand each year appears a testament to the fact: from Madonna to George Clooney, Gerard Butler to Francis Ford Coppola, there are enough famous artists for the 2011 edition of the Festival to fill the pages of every paper and magazine.

This is part of the conundrum. A glance at blogs, newspapers, magazines and television crews covering TIFF shows the vast majority of comments and interviews are devoted to Hollywood blockbusters and film stars, none of which really need the publicity given the size of the prints and advertising budgets at their disposal.

Who does need this publicity? Oh, yes: Canadian films (in addition to their independent foreign equivalents). Then again, so does TIFF itself. In attracting the big names and joining the big leagues, the Festival has become more and more financially viable and now has more capacity to make a difference for Canadian filmmakers… but in courting Hollywood bigwigs, it has to give them something back. That “something” is a platform that, in generating its own heat, inevitably crowds out the less stellar participants.

The result is either a vicious cycle or a virtuous circle, depending on where you stand. Hollywood can and will pick up independent product; its stars and directors come from all over the globe, so one cannot speak of being “shut out”. Yet, this very transnationality precludes most localization save for American references. Toronto and Montreal become New York or Chicago. The occasional blockbuster or epic will take place in China or perhaps the Congo. However, the majority are set stateside.

Despite 34 features screening at the Festival this year, Canadian programming itself is still the wallflower at the dance compared to its more glamourous Hollywood counterpart. In addition, the vast majority of films entered as Canadian are coproductions. True, foreign films have a pride of place at the Festival, and rightly so, that they simply can’t garner at other times of the year. There may be French, Jewish and Native film festivals in Toronto; however, the exposure they get is clearly not the same as any film can get at TIFF. The mere fact of being chosen for the festival is a badge of merit for most. This is why the relative obscurity of Canadian features in Canadian media at this time of the year is a shame.

Journos and newspaper publishers alike, along with television managers and their ilk, will argue that they give readers and the audience what they want. It’s a circular argument, and easily belied by the most elementary knowledge of economics and differentiated product neo-marginalist theory. How do you know what people want? They ask for it. Most will shrug their shoulders and end it at that. However, there is a deeper question which we must ask: why do people ask for one kind of entertainment and not another? Answer: because it’s what they know.

It stands to reason that no one can possibly ask for something they know nothing about. In basic economic theory, perfect information is a sine qua non condition of a competitive marketplace. There can be no proper competition without full information. Prints and advertising are information. So is media coverage. Every article and interview is free publicity for the recipient, allowing information about the product to be disseminated to the potential audience.

Therefore, the constant and fulsome media coverage granted to Hollywood superstars does indeed reinforce the impression that their films are the ones to see before all others.

Information as a crucial component of film marketing is shaped by the nature of film as an economic product. By definition, cultural products behave exactly like differentiated products. This means they rely on branding to reach an audience. Films can’t be sold in the same way as wheat or petroleum. To buy a film is to consume it entirely. There are barriers to entry and those barriers have to do with unsubstantial things such as image as much as, or more than, standard economic characteristics such as economies of scale.

Marketing a film is always a shot in the dark, even with generous funds available for prints and advertising. The 1980 Hollywood film Heaven’s Gate is a classic example, losing $40 million even after a recut and rerelease. At the other end of the marketing and distribution/exhibition scale lies the practice of four-walling, whereby a distributor rents out a theatre for a flat weekly fee and retains all resulting earnings. This type of strategy has been used successfully for niche films such as Spike Lee’s early work and My Big Fat Greek Wedding by Nia Vardalos. Another kind of grassroots marketing is targeting the audience by demographic category. This method worked relatively well in the case of the 1990 Canadian film The Company of Strangers, about a group of seniors stranded when their bus broke down. The producers created buzz through organizations and venues frequented by seniors, also offering screenings in targeted locations.

As it happens, TIFF does that type of grassroots marketing. It’s called Film Circuit, and it actually started in Sudbury, Ontario, in a small festival called Cinefest, founded by a guy called Cam Haynes. Film Circuit brings great indie films to people who might not otherwise have a chance to see them, in locations where foreign and Canadian films are usually shut out of local theatres (unless they’re called Porky’s). It’s a terrific initiative and I’ve always felt Haynes was a genius. However, it just doesn’t get enough recognition; i.e., publicity.

So here we are again. Okay, we can’t expect the New York Times to get excited about Canadian cinema. But what about right here? Earth to Canadian media: hello there. Canadian cinema exists. Would you mind, please? I’ve got nothing against George Clooney, but you know Pascale Bussières might have made just as good of a cover on Hello magazine Canada.