Filmmaker Robert Lang remembers Lotta HitschmanovaNovember 26, 2019
Lotta Hitschmanova, USC Canada, SeedChange… Bob Lang has filmed the evolution of this organization for decades.
Bruce Cockburn has been a high-profile champion for USC Canada and SeedChange for many decades, starting in the 1980s and all the way up to 2019, when he volunteered to film two new videos announcing the organization’s new name.
But did you know another dedicated supporter has been behind the camera for every one of Bruce’s videos? Meet filmmaker Robert Lang.
Bob was a teenager when he first encountered our organization in the mid-sixties, in the form of an interesting dinner guest: Lotta Hitschmanova.
Lotta came over to his parents house for dinner multiple times. “She shared a lot with my mother and father because she was also a refugee from the war,” says Bob. “She came from Czechoslovakia and my parents came from Austria and Germany just before the war, so they had a bit of a simpatico there.”
Bob remembers volunteering with his parents at the Unitarian Church Hall in Montreal. Volunteers, mainly women, would bring knitted clothing and blankets they had made to ship overseas. After school, he’d go to the hall to help move large packages of clothing. There, he recalls listening to Lotta’s famous pep talks to these groups of women.
“That was just her thing.”
He remembers the talks were always about “how important this was and how appreciated this was. She would just get people enthused about the work.”
Many longtime supporters would agree that Lotta had a unique and engaging way of speaking that drew supporters to her.
“She really was a smart communicator because she would always talk in stories,” said Bob. “She wouldn’t give you theory. She would say ‘I met so-and-so’ in Korea or the Middle East.”
Despite her strong communication skills, Bob remembers Lotta being a very private person who didn’t socialize much. “It was surprising for someone who was so outgoing and so able to bring people into her circle.”
In the early 80s, Bob, already an accomplished filmmaker, came to USC Canada’s headquarters at 56 Sparks Street in Ottawa, where SeedChange still resides, interested in lending his talents to make a film about the organization’s work.
He started with a film about our Bangladesh program called Moving the Banyan Tree. For the next 20 years, Bob recorded multiple public service announcements for SeedChange, many of which involved teaming up with his friend Bruce Cockburn. These short videos included footage from multiple documentaries he made for SeedChange, including a film in Mali called River of Sand and a film made almost entirely of photographs called Path to Nepal.
He says he was drawn to SeedChange by his adventurous spirit.
“I like to get out there and encounter the world in its many variations,” he says. “This was an opportunity for me because I could go out and do this filming in different parts of the world that I had never been and would never have had a reason to go to.”
Forever an explorer, Bob approaches his life and filmmaking career with the idea that “there is a lot we don’t know about the world.” He appreciated the fact that SeedChange was thinking about people who weren’t always at the forefront of media conversations and focused on creating long term, sustainable change.
“There was always a way of working with people that respected their autonomy, that worked towards self sustaining communities, that didn’t create dependence.”
As someone who has closely followed the evolution of Lotta’s Unitarian Service Committee of Canada to today’s SeedChange, Bob has been pleased to see our growing focus on supporting small-scale farmers, as a way to help communities empower themselves and grow the sustainable food they need to thrive.
The need to preserve seed diversity and keep seeds in farmers’ hands is something he explored in his own filmmaking, starting with his 1985 film about the growing corporatization of agriculture called Fragile Harvest, which would later earn him a gold award at the Berlin Agricultural Film Festival.
Today, Bob says he sees “the same issues, on a different scale,” but he also notices “much more of a community interest in seed.”
Earlier in the year, when our Board and staff made the big decision of updating our organization’s name to SeedChange, it was only fitting for us to turn to Bob Lang once more for another collaboration with Bruce Cockburn. Thank you Bob for your long-standing support and your help in getting the word out!