Through a Blue Lens

Last updated
Through a Blue Lens
Directed byVeronica Alice Mannix
Produced byGillian Darling-Kovanic
Release date
  • 1999 (1999)
Running time
52 minutes

Through a Blue Lens is a Canadian documentary film produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The film follows interactions between police officers and drug addicts and documents the extreme poverty and suffering many addicts endure.



Through a Blue Lens was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and directed by Veronica Alice Mannix. It was shot in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The film is 52 minutes in length and incorporates 22 minutes of footage shot by a group of Vancouver Police Officers called The Odd Squad Productions Society. [1]


This award-winning documentary film, shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada’s notorious Downtown Eastside, caught the eyes of audiences, film makers and critics worldwide for its unusual and sensitive depiction of life on the street.

Through A Blue Lens documents a year of life and death on the street and behind tenement walls. A striking aspect of the film is not only the horror of drug abuse but the story of how the interaction between the police and the people who are living with complex substance abuse and mental health diagnoses, with the camera as a catalyst, actually changed the people involved. The cops became more sympathetic to the people on the street and their complex barriers to care , in having friendship extended to them by the police and film makers, developed self-esteem and, in some cases, actually were able to move towards recovery.

This documentary was made during the height of the then unpublished scandal of the missing women in downtown Vancouver. At least one of the women who appears on camera named April Reoch was later identified was thought to be one of the victims. She died on Christmas Day of 2000. It was later discovered that she was murdered by Ian Mathieson Rowe, and not by Robert Pickton.



While the Mannix team was filming their previous documentary, Down Here, they met two officers who had something to say about the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside. The officers had been using still cameras to document many of the circumstances people suffered and took these images to local schools to educate youth.

The Mannix’s were asked by the officers to teach them to use a video camera, so they started by teaching camera handling, camera ethics and power relationships. Following videotaping, the officers would leave the video tapes with Veronica Mannix for screening and comments. Her comments would include direction on follow-up with specific participants. It was during this time that Veronica's vision formed of the relationship of these two unlikely groups of people coming together to try to make a difference. She pitched the story and the National Film Board supported her vision. Veronica used 22 minutes of the officers' 100 hours of videotape; the remainder of the footage was shot by Daniel Mannix as directed by Veronica. Through a Blue Lens started out with seven police officers and nineteen drug users. The final participants included four officers and six drug users.

Additional credits

The NFB producer is Gillian Darling Kovanic with Daniel C. Mannix as director of photography. The editor is Shelly Hamer. Running time is 52 minutes.


An official follow-up titled Tears For April: Beyond The Blue Lens (2007), re-introduces the late April Reoch and focuses directly on her struggles with addiction until the discovery of her body on Christmas Day, 2000. Reoch's son Daniel, is also featured in this documentary. The other five users from the previous documentary have made appearances with updated details. Randy Miller, a former user, has successfully stayed sober since 2000 (Miller later had a series of strokes and still lives in New Westminster with his common-law wife Deb). Co-director Al Arsenault, a retired police officer experienced in martial arts, chronicles his experiences with April before her death.

Tears For April: Beyond The Blue Lens was independently produced by The Odd Squad Productions Society. It is co-directed by Al Arsenault and Ken Jubenvill, with writing by Steve Berry.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">IMAX</span> Large-screen film format

IMAX is a proprietary system of high-resolution cameras, film formats, film projectors, and theaters known for having very large screens with a tall aspect ratio and steep stadium seating.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philip Owen</span> Canadian mayor (1933–2021)

Philip Walter Owen was the 36th mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia from 1993 to 2002, making him one of Vancouver's longest serving mayors. His father was Walter S. Owen, who was Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1973 to 1978.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Libby Davies</span> Canadian politician

Libby Davies is a Canadian politician from British Columbia. She was the member of Parliament for Vancouver East from 1997 to 2015, House Leader for the New Democratic Party (NDP) from 2003 to 2011, and Deputy Leader of the party from 2007 until 2015. Prior to entering federal politics, Davies helped found the Downtown Eastside Residents Association and served as a Vancouver city councillor from 1982 to 1993.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Downtown Eastside</span> Neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is a neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. One of the city's oldest neighbourhoods, the DTES is the site of a complex set of social issues, including disproportionately high levels of drug use, homelessness, poverty, crime, mental illness and sex work. It is also known for its strong community resilience, history of social activism, and artistic contributions.

Roman Kroitor was a Canadian filmmaker who was known as a pioneer of Cinéma vérité, as the co-founder of IMAX, and as the creator of the Sandde hand-drawn stereoscopic 3D animation system. He was also the original inspiration for The Force. His prodigious output garnered numerous awards, including two BAFTA Awards, three Cannes Film Festival awards, and two Oscar nominations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ian Hanomansing</span> Canadian journalist

Ian Harvey Hanomansing is a Canadian television journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). He formerly hosted CBC News Network Vancouver on CBC News Network, and reports for CBC Television's nightly newscast, The National.

Pivot Legal Society is a legal advocacy organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia's Downtown Eastside. Founded in 2001, Pivot's goal is to represent and defend the interests of marginalized communities affected by poverty and social exclusion. It accomplishes this through strategic litigation and public advocacy directed at government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vancouver Agreement</span>

The Vancouver Agreement was an initiative undertaken jointly by the governments of Canada, British Columbia, and the City of Vancouver, to develop and revitalize Vancouver, and in particular its Downtown Eastside, through collaboration between projects and ministries at all three levels of government, as well as community and business groups. While other parts of the city are also targeted by the initiative, its Downtown Eastside area is notorious across Canada for its deep problems with poverty, substance abuse, prostitution, violent crime and homelessness, and the agreement’s stated goals include promoting the health, safety and economic and social well being of the neighbourhood. The initial five-year agreement began in March, 2000 and expired in March, 2010.

City of Gold is a 1957 Canadian documentary film by Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, chronicling Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. It made innovative use of archival photos and camera movements to animate still images, while also combining narration and music to bring drama to the whole. Its innovative use of still photography in this manner has been cited by Ken Burns as the source of inspiration for his so-called Ken Burns effect, a type of panning and zooming effect used in video production to animate still images.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wendy Poole Park</span>

Wendy Poole Park is a small triangular plot of parkland near the waterfront in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, British Columbia. The land is at Alexander Street and the Main Street Overpass, and it was named by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation for a young aboriginal woman who was murdered nearby in 1989. The park contains a memorial boulder inscribed with information about Poole.

Whistling Smith is a 1975 short documentary film directed by Marrin Canell and Michael J. F. Scott for the National Film Board of Canada. It was produced for the NFB's Pacificanada series, which aired on CBC-TV in early 1975.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Officer</span> Canadian writer, filmmaker, ice hockey player

Charles Officer is a Canadian writer, actor, director and former professional hockey player.

<i>Finding Dawn</i> 2006 Canadian film

Finding Dawn is a 2006 documentary film by Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh looking into the fate of an estimated 500 Canadian Aboriginal women who have been murdered or have gone missing over the past 30 years.

The Women's Memorial March is an annual event which occurs on February 14 in remembrance and in honour of the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women. This event is also a protest against class disparity, racism, inequality and violence. The event was originated and is held in Vancouver's Downtown East Side. The March begins on the corner of Main and Hastings and proceeds through downtown, stopping outside of bars, strip clubs, in alley ways and parking lots where women's bodies have been found. Each woman's name is read along with who she is a daughter to, or a mother of before the family and supporters pause to grieve.

Pacificanada is a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) Canadian documentary television miniseries about British Columbia which aired on CBC Television in 1975.

Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis are a Canadian animation duo. On January 24, 2012, they received their second Oscar nomination, for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) animated short film, Wild Life (2011). With their latest film, The Flying Sailor, they received several nominations and awards, including for the Best Canadian Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and on January 24, 2023, they received a nomination for the 95th Academy Awards under the category Best Animated Short Film.

Bear 71 is a 20-minute 2012 interactive National Film Board of Canada (NFB) web documentary by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes about a female grizzly bear in Banff National Park named Bear 71, who had a tracking collar implanted at the age of three and was watched via trail cameras in the park from 2001 to 2009. The documentary follows the bear, exploring the connections between the human and animal world, and the far-ranging effects that human settlements, roads and railways have on wildlife.

Mort Ransen was a Canadian film and television director, editor, screenwriter and producer, best known for his Genie Award-winning 1995 film Margaret's Museum.

Trisha Baptie is a Vancouver-based citizen journalist and activist for the abolition of prostitution.

<i>Highrise</i> (documentary) Multimedia documentary project about life in residential highrises

Highrise is a multi-year, multimedia documentary project about life in residential highrises, directed by Katerina Cizek and produced by Gerry Flahive for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The project, which began in 2009, includes five web documentaries—The Thousandth Tower, Out My Window, One Millionth Tower, A Short History of the Highrise and Universe Within: Digital Lives in the Global Highrise—as well as more than 20 derivative projects such as public art exhibits and live performances.


  1. Beard, William; White, Jerry (2002-01-01). North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema Since 1980 . University of Alberta. pp.  41. ISBN   9780888643902. North of everything Through a Blue Lens.