Film Discussion Interviews & Profiles

I’m Just Here for the Riot – An interview with co-directors Kat Jayme & Asia Youngman – VIFF 2023

Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup was a disaster for the City of Vancouver. As the Canucks crashed to defeat against the Boston Bruins, the fans on the street grew restless, angry, and then violent. What followed was the destruction of downtown Vancouver and a bleak demonstration of mob mentality. In ESPN’s latest 30 for 30, Kat Jayme and Asia Youngman reckon with their hometown’s darkest sporting chapter.

Set The Tape’s Nicholas Lay met with Kat and Asia at VIFF 2023 to chat about the legacy of the riot, who was responsible, and the impact of social media on the young people involved.

Photo by Tijana Martin.

Nicholas Lay: Game 7 is the most infamous night in Vancouver sporting history. What are your memories of the riot and what inspired you to document it for 30 for 30?

Kat Jayme: I remember being so upset about what I saw in 2011. I’m a basketball fan, but that year I was a Canucks fan, and I just remember being so heartbroken after that playoff run. It was a dark moment and I wondered what it was all about. If there are no rules, do we just beat each other up and destroy our city for no reason? I was so curious as to why this happened and then the next day when all the social media stuff started happening, I thought that was pretty gross too. I always knew this would be such a great story, and Asia and I both had connections to ESPN. I pitched Finding Big Country to them for 30 for 30 and they ended up picking it up, but not for 30 for 30. so we always had that connection. Asia and I knew exactly what we were looking for and a 30 for 30 with a social media story turned out to be right up ESPN’s alley.

Asia Youngman: I’ve always been a pretty big Canucks fan and a big part of that is because my dad had season tickets, so I’d go to a lot of games with my dad. That year, I remember the excitement that was happening throughout the city, Everyone was really rooting for the Canucks and was dedicated to that playoff run. I didn’t actually go to game seven, but my brother got to go because my dad would alternate between taking us. I was really disappointed, but I ended up going downtown and watching the game on the screens with some friends and I remember feeling that energy that was in the air that afternoon leading up to the end of the game, and it felt very different from the other games that I’d been watching downtown. I remember the disappointment. I remember people getting really riled up and frustrated and angry, and then the fear I felt when things took a turn.

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I ended up leaving the main area by CBC and went down to Dunsmuir. Then I saw smoke billowing up from one of the cars that had been flipped over and lit on fire. Luckily, because my brother and my dad were at the game, they picked me up and we fled downtown before it got shut down. I got home and watched the footage on the news, and I just felt really upset. I didn’t know why people were reacting this way because of a hockey game. Of course, I was upset about the loss. So many people were devastated. But does that mean that we should destroy our own city, attack each other, and be violent and destructive?

I look back and on it now and realise I was 19 at the time. Had I not had a ride, would I have stayed downtown and filmed what was happening? There is that curiosity when you’re at that age and something like this happens in the city. No-one wanted to really talk about it and it was swept under the rug, even though it’s now happened twice in Vancouver. So I wanted to explore why this happened, because we’ve never really had a public discussion and really talked about it in depth. 2011 was considered the first smartphone riot and I was really fascinated by the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter at that time and how it played a huge role in how people were identified, as well as the process the police had to go through to to find people who were involved.

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NL: You focus heavily on the rioters themselves, particularly those who were young and went viral. What drew you to their stories and the legacy of the riot, rather then just the event itself?

AY: We wanted to explore things that hadn’t been explored before. We saw the people who were involved in the riots get arrested and witnessed the backlash on social media, but we weren’t getting the story from their perspective or what led them to make that decision. What was going on in their life that day that made them think this was something they wanted to participate in? We also wanted to get a sense of how the social media witch hunt affected their lives. Humanising them was a big goal for Kat and I, not to necessarily excuse their behaviour, because ultimately they made a bad decision and we don’t want to encourage anyone to get involved in a riot. But when you see how damaging social media can be on a person, I think it really makes you question how we should be dealing with people who’ve made a mistake. Some people did very minor things, which of course is not good, but if someone takes a bottle of Maple syrup from a department store, do they deserve to have their life ruined? Those are the blurred lines we look at in the film.

NL: The rioters featured in the film probably hoped they were done with this whole episode. Was it difficult tracking them down and getting them to participate?

AY: We were very fortunate to find people who were willing to share their story because we always knew the biggest challenge would be finding people who were not afraid to go on camera and say, “This is what I did, this is how it’s affected me”. We found a list of people who were involved and did a lot of outreach. I would send messages to people and hope they’d respond. Some people did, some people didn’t. Some people said no, some were very quick to say yes, and some were a little bit more hesitant and took a bit more convincing. It was a long process for us to find the individuals that we ended up interviewing, and it came from them being brave enough to share their story. That’s something Kat and I are so grateful for.

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NL: Which story got its hooks into you emotionally?

KJ: Good question. I think for me it was Jay, who was the university student who wanted to go to medical school. That was one of the most heartbreaking stories because it’s been 10 years and here we are, going about our lives, getting to do what we want to do, and then there’s some people who’re still feeling the negative effects of this and it’s stopped them from pursuing their dreams. It’s still this dark cloud hanging over them and it’s really sad, so that was a really eye opening subject to learn about.

AY: Jay was arrested at the same university I went to, and I just couldn’t imagine being in a lecture hall and having security come in and arrest you on the spot in front of your peers. I think Dylan had a similar experience. I think he was 17 and in high school and was also arrested at school. They really leant into the the public shaming of it all and used these people as examples. But to do that to them at such a young age is really detrimental to a person, so it was really sad to hear those those stories and put yourself in their shoes.

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NL: You allow the people on the ground to tell the story, but ultimately the rioters, the media, and the police all leave responsibility on the table. Do you have a strong opinion one way or another as to why things played out the way they did?

KJ: After doing a bunch of research after talking to everyone who was there that night,  a lot of things created the perfect scenario for a riot. The fact that it was Game 7 and all this emotion and pressure was building up. The fact that we were up 3-1 in the series and slowly started to see our our our lead slip away. The fact that the 2010 Olympics were a year prior with hundreds or thousands of people downtown, and nothing happened, I think that fooled us into thinking that we could have these mass gatherings downtown and it would be peaceful. Then there was the 1994 riot that the media was talking about it, and, of course, social media.

Social media was a really big factor. It was so new. We would take hundreds of photos from a night out and just upload them to Facebook. People were curious and wanted to go downtown to take photos to post on Facebook, not realizing they were incriminating themselves or people who just wanted to be there to see the riot. They either clogged up downtown, making it harder for the police to do their job, or their presence egged people on who were participating in riotous behaviour, and they actually ended up getting sucked into the riot themselves.

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AY: There isn’t just one thing, it’s a bunch of factors that made the perfect recipe for disaster. I think the city was very unprepared. We don’t want to point fingers or blame anyone but do want to offer multiple perspectives so that the audience can make their own decision as to why it happened. But you have to ask why they weren’t prepared for the worst. You hear it in some of the interviews that the city didn’t have any discussions about it, so I think there was a lack of preparation, but it also was the fact that people were drinking and there was a lot of emotions going through a lot of people.

When you look at riots like this it leads into the mob mentality bit. You’re surrounded by people who are dressed the same way as you like, they’re all wearing jerseys, and you no longer feel like you’re your own person, that you’re part of a bigger group. When you’re seeing other people who are dressed the same as you doing those things, I think they can get caught up in it. At the same time, we do challenge the idea of mob mentality as not everyone decided to riot or stay downtown.

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NL: Two senior police officers are featured throughout, yet they get a free pass with regards to the VPD’s lack of preparedness and response on the night – for example, only having 450 officers on the street. Did you challenge the police at all on their version of events?

KJ: We didn’t want to explicitly say it was the police or the media, but I do feel that what they say in their interviews is very telling as to what their views were, like what you said about the fact that they only had 450 police officers that night. Asia and I didn’t feel that we needed to put them on the spot necessarily. The interviews took place so long ago, but we did ask some hard questions, and there’s the quote Asia mentioned from Jim Chu about the city just not having the conversation. We asked them about how they prepared and they didn’t plan.

AY: When we were having those interviews, Kat and I were certainly trying to push, but there was a wall that was put up. Jim Chu now works for the Aquilini Group and I thought that was interesting as he used to work for the Vancouver Police Department and now he works for the family that owns the Canucks. I was just trying to get a little bit deeper with that, but he really wasn’t responsive. He shared his personal opinions on a few things, but he wouldn’t go too deep with it, I think because he has to represent, his previous employer and his current employer.

We were always trying to push it, and each of out interviews were two to three hours, so they were quite thorough. In the edit, we were just trying to find that balance and teasing things that were questionable. Like when Steve Rai says, “We were marketing the riot”, that’s an interesting statement. And then Jim Chu’s line about not wanting to have any conversations about it. I feel that gives away the fact that they were just so clearly unprepared.

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NL: Trevor Holness suggested a similar riot can and likely will happen again. Do you agree and do you think it could ever reoccur in Vancouver?

KJ: Some people will be asking why there’s a film about this as it’s an embarrassing stain on Vancouver’s history, but we both felt like this event got swept under the rug in 2011. We’ve not talked about it, we’ve not discussed it, and since it happened all we’ve done is go hard on these rioters without actually understanding what happened. I’m hopeful that the film can can spark this discussion. It depends on the next generation and how they remember the repercussions of what our generation faced during the riot. Hopefully people’s kids can still get educated about what happened in 2011, so that it doesn’t happen again.

AY: Kat and I have mixed opinions on this. I do think it could happen again, unfortunately. The hope with this film is that it might prevent it from happening again. But history repeats itself and we see it in all areas of society, so I think it’s possible. If Vancouver’s in Game 7 again, who knows what’s going to happen.

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NL: What’s next for you both, do you have any new projects in the pipeline? 

KJ: I was working on a documentary about Christine Sinclair, but that got shelved. Maybe it’ll pick back up, I’m not sure. For now,  I’m taking a much needed rest. I’m really tired, but I still have many things in development. One thing that that might be funny to to note is that I’m developing a narrative series about the Vancouver. Grizzlies, which we’re shopping around at the moment.

AY: I’m not slowing down! I have two features in development, one narrative and one documentary. I have a short documentary that’s in post-production and three television series that are in development right now, so I’m keeping busy. The short film’s called Delta Dawn and it’s about an indigenous wrestler who competed in Japan in the ’80s and she’s the first Canadian women to go to Japan and compete. That one should be finished at the end of the year.

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NL: Are there any other films or filmmakers you’d like to shout out at VIFF 2023?

KJ: Our co-producer Mike Johnson is the producer on another film, Wild Goat Surf. Yeah. And there’s Meredith Hammer Brown who’s another good friend of ours, her film is called Seagrass. There’s many local filmmakers that we are super excited to watch this year.

AY: The great thing about VIFF is we have such a close knit film community. A lot of the time it’s our good friends who have films at the festival, so it’s always great to go out and support each other and go to each other’s screenings and celebrate as a community. Like Kat said, we have a lot of friends at the festival with a lot of first time features, which is great to see, and inspiring to us as well.

I’m Just Here for the Riot is playing at VIFF 2023 and will premiere on ESPN in summer 2024.

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