Magnus would have felt honoured by the outpouring of praise from friends and colleagues on his blog, on his Facebook page, on the Doc list serv, and in the media. He was a public kind of guy, sharing not only his insights into documentary practice and his love for film in general, but also his more personal life, including the last 5 years as he faced the challenges of illness.
Those five years were incredibly productive, despite the difficult context for documentary filmmaking. His work reached a new maturity and his last film, Ma vie réelle, could well be seen as one of his best.
While he knew the cancer that reared its ugly head back in 2007 might return, it was only in the last 6 months that he really began to feel its effects. There were the twice or 3 times yearly scans to deal with and the worry of leaving his family and a young daughter, but otherwise he was a happy and fulfilled human being until the end, living life to the fullest, aware of every precious minute.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the fréquent forays he made onto Quebec’s rivers, whenever he could find even a few days, often enticing colleagues away from their desks and editing rooms.
We too, his family, have been consoled in our loss by the knowledge that Magnus is being remembered, his work being critically examined, tributes being planned and a filmmaking award being set up in his name.
This blog, which Magnus began 5 years ago seems a fitting place to post some of the more personal letters and tributes from friends and colleagues, those which will never make it into newspaper or academic articles. They reveal the whole person behind the filmmaker, the friendships he valued, the passionate, crazy guy he was.
We hope you enjoy them!
Tributes from Friends
From Patricio Henriquez, one of Canada’s leading documentary filmmakers. He worked with Salvador Allende and was forced to leave Chile after the coup in 1973. He sent me this after I mentioned him as an inspiration in an interview in November 2011.
My very dear Magnus,
I am so proud that you count me among the people who influenced you. Especially since it was just the opposite. Just after we got to know each other in the 1980’s you were a decisive influence on me. Coming from journalism and public affairs television, I followed in your footsteps and decided that I could – like you – dare step away from the financial security of television and take the uncertain road of independent documentary production. I took that decision in spite of some persistent fears, and I never regretted it, even though my finances never recovered to their levels of 20 years ago. I state and I repeat : you were the deciding influence in my decisions, and I will always be grateful for that. I am also proud that you count me among your friends. To be close to you is a magnificent privilege, always inspiring, and not just on the professional level. Your talent, your involvement, your loyalty and your integrity are models for the rest of us.
Your friend and companion
From Helene Klodawsky, one of our best documentary filmmakers, very sensitive and creative. We have known each other since she first came to Montreal some 30 years ago. She wrote me this in the spring of 2012 as it was clear that my health was getting a lot worse and I was talking about semi-retiring.
Your letter is so moving and without a doubt, shows the enormous strength, love and insight that you and Jocelyn are known for. You are leaders – not only in the film community – but in a “whole” human way. The way you are sharing your challenges, as well as your hopes and achievements makes all of us, I think, dare to be more open, more sharing of who we are – even when things are tough.
I am really sorry to hear that health issues continue to get in the way of your amazing work and dedication to telling stories, particularly in these difficult times. You seem, along with your family, in touch with what’s most important – and so I salute you in your self-knowing. May time in the country and in your canoe give you the peace and clean air you seek. I can’t see you being retired for long Magnus – it will be no surprise to see you taking on a multitude of projects – maybe different ones, but no doubt as engaging.
From Claes Jurander and Petra Westermark, two leading Swedish artists and childhood friends. Claes makes graphic art and drawings, and has been teaching in Sweden’s art schools for several decades. Petra is a textile artist who exhibits nationally and internationally. I have seen them about every two years ever since I moved from Sweden in 1970, usually at their incredible house at the end of a Stockholm bus route. Jocelyne quickly became a close friend of theirs too, finding many affinities around plants, literature, art and music.
Today we went picking raspberries. That made us think of you. We think of you often, but at this precise moment, in the raspberry field, the image of you sharpened. We have strong memories of you from that particular spot, gulping down the red berries. In a white shirt and full of life. While the other guests are sitting down, eating pie. Because from Montreal you have, as usual, in some magical way organized the gang of youth friends for a bi-annual get-together. Thanks to you, we meet again.
It makes us happy to see the pictures and to read about the beautiful wedding, and about all the love that is showered on you. It comforts us to feel the enormous strength you are showing against the force of the illness. But it is difficult and so unusual to see you ensnared in all the tubes and technical devices demanded by the care. In our inner eye, you will always be descending dangerous rapids and escalate the Rocky mountains.
We also think about Jocelyne. So strong in the middle of all this. She is your great gift, Magnus !
Claes Jurander / Petra Westermark
Franck le Coroller has been my assistant for the last couple of years. And what an assistant ! His skills became increasingly important as I started losing a few marbles due to medication. Negotiate something, organize something, pull things together at the last minute, Franck was always there performing a small miracle and saving our scene. Now he has promised to help pull together a DVD which will transmit some of what I feel I have learned along the way. Thank you Franck!
I am taking the time now to do a balance sheet of everything I was exposed to during these very busy years and to evaluate what I learned. Beyond the techniques and manners, it was a way of doing things that you found ways of sharing with me (and others) in such generous ways. I feel more human, and you and Martin are already inspirations for me. Something indefinable has been passed through me. Now I just have to dive in myself and let my own ideas develop in the same fashion.
I am sad not to be by your side at this moment, but I know that you are surrounded by love and that is reassuring. You have shown incredible wisdom, and I am with you with my whole being however you decide to live these moments. You have marked my existence profoundly and forever. What a fantastic encounter.
Kisses, friendship and add some oceanic clouds drifting in.
Frederick Bohbot is an up-and-coming producer in Monteal, very dynamic and full of initiative. He wrote me this short message the day after our wedding party.
Thank you and Jocelyne for letting me share this moment with you.
I’m very sorry to see the way this illness is coming after you.
I don’t think I’ve ever said it to you directly, but your presence in my life has had a profound effect. Regularly, I think about how I would absolutely not be doing what I’m doing today had I not met you. And meeting people over the years who have worked with you and speaking to people at the party on Friday, it’s clear that I’m not the only one that you have helped enormously.
If there’s any way that I can help you or Jocelyne over the coming months please never hesitate to ask.
Martin Duckworth is one of my best friends and more than anyone else the guy who has allowed me to do what I have done professionally. His heart is huge, his generosity without limits, and his talent immense. He has done a fantastic job on my new film, MY REAL LIFE. He wrote this when I told him I had collected some quotes.
Magnus. I think I know the secret of your constant blossoming as a human being and as a film-maker. It’s the respect you have for other people. You make everyone you meet feel relevant. That brings out the best in people, and accounts for the love and respect that surrounds you. You make us all feel fully alive when with you, both as friends and as fellow workers.
This is from one of my very best friends, Michael Kaufman of Toronto. He is an activist supporting womens’ rights, one of the founders of the White Ribbon campaign against violence against women. He has been one of the few people I could always discuss many personal issues with and a huge support throughout the years. We meet regularly near Kingston, benefitting from Michael’s and Betty’s incredible hospitality.
He wrote this to me as I told him I felt the end was near.
I received your sad, peaceful, and heroic email. So many thoughts come into my head.
One is about your strength. Maureen and I would always joke about your physical strength and stamina – for we remembered hikes when you carried both yours and Maureen’s pack up a mountain and another, when you and I were portaging and you carried both the canoe and what seemed like the lion’s share of our gear. It was always a quiet, physical strength, not the pumped up, chest-thumping physical strength celebrated in North America, but something more basic, more essential, more timeless.
But of course, what I’m thinking about now is your emotional strength. I don’t just mean these days – as you go through what all of us often live through in our imaginations but have no clue how we will actually manage. What I mean is also the emotional strength throughout your life.
That strength of yours has carried many of us, just as you carried our packs. We’ve known each other for, what?, almost forty years. We met in a turbulent political time but also a turbulent personal time. You were always there for me, solid and supportive, as I tried to cope, not always successfully, with one messed up relationship or another. You held my hand, encouraged me, helped me make sense of my troubles, and told me in more ways than one that things would work out. I will always owe you my gratitude and thanks.
One of the things I’ve always loved about you is the way you have managed to stay so true to your social values and to focus so singularly on what I think of as your political art, with no interest in the glitz and glamour that calls to many of us. I know I have always felt more torn between that desire to live the life of an artist, the life of a political activist and educator versus the desire for physical comfort and financial security. (The results have been predictably uneven!) I’ve loved your ability to stay true to your great calling as a filmmaker focused on giving voice to those who have little voice, and bringing their spirit and thoughts to the world.
Yet, within that singular commitment, you weren’t crazy. You always found time to return to the lakes and the woods; you always insisted on making time for reading, some solitude, and physical activity, and for those you loved.
And it’s been so beautiful watching as you transformed your life with Jocelyne and as you became a father once again.
Magnus, although geography has kept us more apart than would have been good, you are and have been one of my closest friends throughout my adult life.
You are a treasure … a man who has brought treasures to others and a man to be treasured.
You will be with me in the years ahead.
I love you so very much.
This is from Clara Valverde whom I lived with through the 1980’s. Originally from Spain, her father was an author and political refugee from the Franco regime. Clara was and still is a writer, health activist and sometimes healer. She wrote me this after I told her I feel the end is near.
My dear Magnus,
It’s very strong of you to admit your vulnerability. I think it was Eduardo Galeano who said: “It takes a lot of courage to be discouraged”.
I am sad that you life is coming to and end, but what a life! Do you remember the title of Pablo Neruda’s autobiography? “Confieso que he vivido”. Boy, you have lived! Your strength, ideas and determination, your commitment to justice, they will go on and on and inspire projects, people, small and not so small revolts.
I know that I learned much from you and got “infected” by your drive to do whatever one wants, to find the way to have a voice and give voice to those who don’t have. That part of me has a lot of Magnus in it.
Be vulnerable or whatever you feel. You have done so much for the world and the world is a better place for it.
And so are we, the ones who love you.
lots of love,
Magnus didn’t get around to annotating the following two letters, but he certainly meant to.
This one is from his close friend Ole Gjerstad, a Norwegian expatriate filmmaker who has been away from Norway as long as Magnus has been from Sweden. This first paragraph basically spells out their first meeting – Ole coming from California and Magnus being his first contact here, his little apartment on Henri-Julien, both with young children, when Magnus was producing a radio documentary about the Vikings for Swedish radio. Born within a week of each other, Magnus and Ole celebrated their birthdays together at 40, 50 and 60.
Kjœre, kjœre Magnus;
Først var du bare et navn, felles bidragsyter til “Kommentar”, kontaktperson i Montreal. Så da jeg dukket opp fra California, var det logisk at jeg tok kontakt. Du bodde i en bitteliten leilighet på rue Henri-Julien, hvor jeg knapt kunne dukke meg inn døren. Anna var syv år; mine barn var babyer. Du laget radiodokumentar for SR om vikingene på Vinland, og jeg satt stemme til utdragene fra Leifs saga. Vi var akkurat like gamle, dvs. du seks dager eldre enn meg. Vårt nœre og voksende vennskap begynte da, i 1979.
You have to admit, it’s been quite a life. We’ve been like two corks bouncing on the currents down the river of life, one caught in an eddy, the other topsy-turvy through rapids — but usually we emerged in the next calm stretch within sight of each other. We could (still can) be honest about our doubts, our flaws, just as we took genuine pleasure in each other’s victories and lucky breaks.
I always admired your stubborn determination to get your films made, and made to your standards, even when it meant working for nothing month after month. Such a fucking waste of talent and commitment is what I felt, and it made me even angrier at the direction our industry has been taking. Me, I don’t have your patience and persistence, and especially the energy that you’ve been pouring into mentoring younger colleagues these past several years. It has raised the horizon of each one of them, as I’m sure they’ll tell you a thousand times over.
When you had that first tumor removed five or six years ago, I didn’t like it one bit. Chantal had received her diagnosis; we were heading down a dark valley, and even if the doctors told you not to worry, I was less confident. Well, you’ve used the break to the fullest, in your life with Jocelyne and Bethiele and in turning out a series of great, moving docs. And now, as much as the evil C is ravaging your body, your calm courage makes it possible for us who love you to come away strengthened by your spirit rather than broken by the cruelty of it all. If you only knew what a difference that makes!
I’ll be around tomorrow and days following. I’ll remind you of some of the highlights of our journey. I’ll rub your back, hold your hand, and just be your friend, as always.
Mark Achbar hardly needs an introduction, one of Canada’s pre-eminent documentary filmmakers. Before moving away from Montreal, Mark and Magnus spent many an hour in the gym and sauna of the University of Montreal sports center. Their friendship remained close even when Mark moved to Vancouver (and beyond). Recently, they spend a week at Martin Duckworth’s family house on lake Memphremagog, allowing Magnus to breathe the pure air he so craved, to have a few more paddles, and where Mark revealed what a nurturing and caring friend he was. Thank you again Mark!
It’s so considerate of you to feel the need to include us, or make reference to us; I don’t feel left out at all, and wouldn’t have. You’re so special to each of us in different ways.
But now that you bring it up, there are things I may not have remembered to tell you during our week at the Duckworth’s cottage, or ever, for that matter. I would rather say this to you directly, now, rather than to a group of grieving friends and family, later. Maybe I’ll do both. But you know how I hate public speaking.
Although I moved away from Montreal in 1994, and haven’t seen you that often since, I’ve never felt any less close to you. My 8 Montreal years were so deeply enhanced by your friendship. You are a core part of why every molecule of my being felt so at home in that city. You’re undoubtedly a major part of what kept me going on the Chomsky film. I’m glad my glum pessimism never infected you.
When I think of you Magnus, I think of your relentlessly positive attitude. Your excitement about, and admiration for, the work of others. A natural humility offset by incredible talent and persistence. Your bravery. Your patient impatience. Your ability to juggle so many balls at once and still not spread yourself too thin (I know you would beg to differ). Your honesty about your own imperfections and weaknesses. In fact, your matter-of-fact-ness about everything. The way you gently ask the hardest questions, so directly, so unabashedly, in a way that has moved me, and I’m sure all who have been fortunate to encounter you, to think more deeply about themselves, their actions, the world around them. About injustice. About inequality.
That’s what you do person-to-person, and it’s what you do through your work.
When I first met you, I was impressed by your grasp of politics and international affairs, and your eloquence on those subjects, and how, without showing off or intimidating, you would invite others to share your knowledge and understanding. In that way you are the best of teachers. Inspiring others to better themselves, and to do their best. You do that in so many ways, in so many realms. Even now. Especially now.
I will treasure my memories of hiking with you for days in Vermont; canoeing with Harold, so depressed at the time; cross-country skiing behind you, struggling to keep up, trying to imitate that little kick you do with each step, that made you go so fast, so gracefully, seemingly effortlessly. You grew up on those skis, I knew I’d never catch up unless you let me. It wasn’t fair. Not that anything is.
We each needed an exercise buddy and found the perfect match in one another. Our modus operandi was: you provide the motivation, I provide the transportation. You’d call and I’d drive us to the gym, and like clockwork we’d go through our workout routine: so many minutes cardio, so many minutes this, so many minutes that, all very structured. At the end, we would reward ourselves with a relaxing sauna and an exchange of information about our projects and our love lives.
There are few things I enjoy less in life than the sudden shock of cold water, so to go from deep sauna to deep freeze is pretty close to my worst nightmare. But you would challenge me to follow your example, lowering yourself into that frighteningly cold, deep, dark, square of self-torture just outside the sauna. I remember doing it at least once, but I remember you more clearly, you: stepping backwards, you’d let go of the ladder, plunge yourself in, then tread water. You’d touch the ladder in front of you, rotate 90 degrees, tread water for a moment more, touch that side of the pool, then rotate 90 degrees, tread some more, then touch the next side, and continue around until you’d done 360 degrees and ended up back at the ladder. And only then would you allow yourself get out. This was not merely the lunacy of your average Swede, but an instinctive exercise of mind over matter. You were able to re-direct and occupy your mind to the point that the numbing cold didn’t matter. I also see you doing that now. And this too will be a great relief when it’s over.…
Thank you for everything Magnus, for your kind, dear, caring friendship, your encouragement, your confidence, your honesty, your advice, your generosity.
I will miss you very, very, much. There is some comfort knowing I won’t be alone in that.
Alone, late at night, on Salt Spring Island, with Love,
Your friend and admirer,