DPJ - Code de vie

French (Available subtitled in French)

Region: Quebec

Year of Production: 2017

Duration: tv 68 min Long métrage 1h55

A cinema verité documentary – After spending several months in the DPJ system as an observer, with the approval of senior management who accepted for the first time to open all the doors and to demystify the much-feared monster, the result is a shock-documentary with a fascinating view of the inside workings of the government agency, one that overturns and explodes a number of pre-conceived myths the public has about the DPJ. Viewers will find themselves in a truly riveting world, one that is never seen in media coverage on the subject.

In the spirit of cinema-vérité, the documentary takes us through all the steps in the DPJ machine, without censorship or compromise, keeping the tension and action levels high. There’s never any hesitation in taking the camera into places where one has never been before: from the first calls to the reporting centre, through the interventions of the front-line workers breaking down doors, to the group homes and detention centres that make some prisons look good, to the families with an abusive parent, to the toddler centres (or “popcorn” as they are referred to since they can pop at any moment), until finally, as totally unprepared 18-year-olds, our troubled youth exit from the system into the world on their own without so much as a safety net.

The film crew is reduced to the bare minimum (director/cameraman and sound recorder) so as not to get in the way and to leave as much space as possible for the main players, using full-shoulder shots and close-ups focused on them. By filming over a long period, the director/cameraman develops close ties with the players to more accurately capture the heartbreak and the tidal wave of emotions they go through, whether they’re children, parents, or social workers.

Social workers, those secular saints who sacrifice their family life through self-denial and who are constantly under pressure, suffer more burnout than any other profession, and are themselves routinely kept under surveillance by an internal army of psychologists. Their work in the field is at the very heart of the film and viewers will be confronted with intense situations as they walk on a tightrope of tension without ever making any value judgments to show the reality they face in the most forceful way possible.

Social workers juggle with very fundamental issues knowing that the slightest decision can have an irreversible impact on the lives of a young person and their family, all of which can lead to everyday dilemmas and the extremely edgy situations that are the backbone of the film. Each scene is built on a moral debate worthy of a major dramatic film: should an 8-year-old child be taken from their family against the wishes of their parents? How to convince a 17-year-old mother to give her child up for adoption? What should the DPJ do when a family of political refugees speaking a Punjabi dialect refuses to send their child to school and what they consider an education would be considered gross negligence here? When a youth is responsible for a violent crisis in a youth centre, should they put in solitary confinement at the Cité des Prairies facility, surrounded by hardened criminals, in order to protect the others at the youth centre? How do you straddle the line between the system and a human life, between the endless bureaucratic roadblocks and the immensely complex reality on the ground?

Unlike the Hollywood stereotype, social workers will admit outright out that these young people, who are often struggling with deep attachment disorders, do not need love and a normal loving family because they will destroy the healthy family structure or go crazy. In an effort to rebuild lives, social workers do not see themselves as substitute parents, but as educators who keep their emotions in check, and provide the necessary discipline, order, and strict rules. Without showing signs of overly outward affection, they do work of meticulous craftsmanship, slowly unraveling the knots in an attempt to restore dignity and self-esteem to the young people and their parents.

A disturbing documentary that raises questions

Is the DPJ a dehumanized technocratic machine or is it an institution that does the best it can to systematize humane treatment and compassion? How can a society possibly manage and contain violence at its source, violence that is inflicted on children, violence that is at the root of most crime and the breakdown of our social fabric? What would happen to our world without this social net, with all its good qualities and its shocking defects? DPJ takes viewers on a captivating and challenging journey packed with extreme situations that carry an emotional burden of rare power, one that will hopefully fuel a fundamental societal debate and set a precedent on our cinematic landscape.

PRODUCTION COMPANY: Les Productions Lustitia Inc