Blog Changing Its Skin

Chutes Montapen

The other day I went to see spring arrive at the Montapen falls north of Joliette, an hour and a half’s drive from Montreal.


Dear subscribers and other readers,

As you may or may not have noticed, with the overwhelming influx of messages which afflicts most of us, my blog has not been active for about six weeks – except for an old post which went out the other day. The immediate reason for this was a nasty malware-infection which has now been cleaned up thanks to my friends and colleagues Kim Gjerstad and Barry Greenwald and our hosting service Web Hosting Canada. However, it was time for the blog to change anyway. I am facing some serious health challenges, and will not be able to write as frequently as I used to. There was a time when I attempted to cover most significant developments in the world of documentary as well as presenting some of my own work, posting every week. From now on, I will write less frequently, and will focus on issues which are very close to my heart, or on people with whom I have a special relationship.

One of my upcoming posts will deal with La grande invasion, (the great invasion) a film about the devastating impact of real estate development gone wild in the Laurentians north of Montreal. Also coming soon, an interview with my dear friend Ali Kazimi about 3D and documentary – he is an authority on the subject and we have been fine-tuning this interview for several months.  And I will have a chance to report on the editing of my own film on the troubled youth of Montreal North.
All the best

Thank you to Sally Rylett for helping with this post.


The Experimental Eskimos broadcast premiere

The Experimental Eskimos 1

Barry Greenwald‘s terrific documentary The Experimental Eskimos reveals an extraordinary attempt at social engineering. The film follows three Inuit, Peter Ittinuar, Zebedee Nungak and Eric Tagoona, who, as 12-year-old boys, were shipped South in the early 1960s from their homes in the Canadian Arctic to attend white public schools in Ottawa. The consequences for their identity and culture were brushed aside.

In their twenties, they became a thorn in the government’s side and were instrumental in the establishment of aboriginal rights that led to the creation of the territory of Nunavut. The film is the untold story of how an experiment in assimilation not only changed the future of their people but the actual geo-political configuration of Canada.

My friend Barry’s previous documentaries include Taxi!, Who Gets In?, Between Two Worlds, The Negotiator, and High Risk Offender. Barry, Ali Kazimi and I share a website, and Barry’s complete bio can be found here.

The film will have its World Broadcast Premiere on Wednesday October 13 at 9 pm ET/MT on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network‘s (APTN) Reel Insights strand across Canada.

Now, if I praised this film you might find that suspect, as Barry is a close friend of mine. So let me quote filmmaker Martin Duckworth – he copied me on a message to Barry after seeing the film:

What a brilliant and beautiful film, Barry. Such a great story, and so cleverly told. Relating personal tragedy and political triumph. Allowing the story to unfold at its own pace, with each chapter appearing as a surprise and a revelation. The film is a work of ingenuity and dedication. Chiseled to perfection. You have reached a pinnacle. It leaves one wondering, “What is there left for this guy to do?” My god, I must look at it again.

Eskimos received the “Allan King Award for Excellence in Documentary” at the recent Directors Guild of Canada Awards (Editor Nick Hector, Sound Editor Michael Bonini, Director Barry). The film has also received honours at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (Best Feature Documentary) and the Yorkton Film Festival (NFB Kathleen Shannon Award).

Have a look at the trailer here.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

This trade union knows how to use film and video!

Still from the film ‘Final Offer’ directed by Sturla Gunnarsson

I recently had the opportunity to co-direct a 25-minute video for the Canadian Auto Workers with my wife Jocelyne Clarke. This is one of the very few commissioned pieces I have worked on in my 30 years of doing audiovisual work, but the Auto Workers is one organization I am pleased to work with. Not only does that union have a strong commitment to social justice, but it knows how to use film and video for educational purposes. The leadership of the union has also over the years shown an extraordinary openness to documentary filmmakers, not being afraid of letting them film life as it really was. This is evident in Sturla Gunnarson‘s excellent 1984 film Final Offer (NFB) which documented not just an important strike but the birth of the CAW as a Canadian Union, breaking off from the ‘international’ (US dominated) UAW. Another example is Barry Greenwald‘s terrific film The Negotiator (Barna-Alper 1995) which followed CAW president ‘Buzz’ Hargrove through some very difficult negotiations. And in Quebec, Louise Lemelin and Hélène Pichette made the excellent Troc: Made in Quebec which documented the fight against the closing of the Kenworth plant in Ste-Thérèse for Radio-Canada. I had an opportunity to talk to former CAW president Bob White, the main character of Final Offer, about the union’s attitude towards documentaries. If everyone shared his opinions, we would have an easier time making films ! Video below the photo.

Interviewing Bob White, President of the Canadian Auto Workers

Thanks to Jorge Bustos-Estefan for help with this blog.

More on the IDA’s list

Barry Greenwald

I had a lot of reactions to my interview with Diane-Estelle Vicari from the IDA about the list of 25 best documentaries. Here’s one from documentary filmmaker Barry Greenwald (one of my partners on the socialdoc web site):

“I would like to think that a Canadian-created equivalent of the IDA’s ‘Best Documentaries’ would be more reflective of the scope, history, and eclectic quality of international documentary cinema…Perhaps it is time for groups and institutions such as Hot Docs, the Rencontres, DOC, filmmakers in Quebec, POV Magazine, Montage, or an umbrella collective thereof, to develop a truly international ‘Best of List’. Canadian inspired with a global view. Opening such a forum to something along the lines of ‘100 Remarkable International Documentaries’ would be a starter.”

Barry sent out a summary of my interview to the Documentary Organization of Canada discussion group and passed on some of the comments. Sheila Petzold promised to bring the idea of a more inclusive list to the DOC executive. Walter Forsyth commented: “A great subject to fill an edition of POV.” I’ll pass this on to POV editor Mark Glassman.

Well, a little more research turned up some existing lists. This is from veteran programmer André Paquet, Every time this kind of list is established, there is inevitably a bias. Either because the people who are consulted are more or less representative, or because the circumstances are particular. I find that one of the best list is one published by DOX magazine for their 50th issue in 2003. They consulted people from all over the world. And when I organized the 50th anniversary celebrations for the NFB in 1989 I selected 53 films which represented ONE history of the documentary. Among the people I consulted at the time were Santiago Alvarez, Emile de Antonio, Peter Von Bagh, Michel Brault, Haile Gerima, Jill Godmillow, Bernard Gosselin, Joris Ivens, Johan Van der Keuken, Allan King, Bonnie Sherr-Klein, Jean-Claude Labrecque, Arthur Lamothe, Richard Leacock, Colin Low, Mira Nair, Julia Reichert, Helga Reidemeister, Jean Rouch, Henri Storck, Klaus Wildenhan.

Our friends and colleagues in the U.S. have a tendency to limit their vision to their own cinema – this is true both for fiction and documentary,”

And here’s the good news, in a couple of days I will be able to post the two lists mentioned by André.

La liste de l’IDA: commentaires

Barry Greenwald

J’ai reçu beaucoup de réactions à mon entrevue avec Diane-Estelle Vicari de l’IDA concernant la liste des 25 meilleurs documentaires. En voici une du cinéaste Barry Greenwald (un de mes partenaires sur le site socialdoc) :

“Je pense qu’une liste créée au Canada, équivalente à celle de IDA,‘Les meilleurs documentaires’, serait plus représentative de l’ampleur, de l’histoire et de l’éclectisme du cinéma documentaire international … Peut-être ça serait le bon moment pour les groupes et les institutions tels que HotDocs, les Rencontres, DOC, les cinéastes du Québec, le magazine POV, Montage ou un collectif de ces derniers, de produire une liste de meilleurs documentaires qui serait réellement internationale. Une liste d’inspiration canadienne mais avec une perspective mondiale. Un bon début serait d’ouvrir un forum sur le thème de ‘100 Documentaires internationaux remarquables’ par exemple.

Barry a publié le résumé de mon entrevue sur le forum de discussion de Documentaristes du Canada et il m’a fait suivre certains commentaires reçus. Sheila Petzold a promis de proposer au comité exécutif de DOC, l’idée de créer une liste plus inclusive. Walter Forsyth a écrit : « Excellent sujet, il faudrait y dédier une édition de POV ». Je vais le faire suivre à Mark Glassman, éditeur de POV.

Après un peu de recherche, j’ai découvert plusieurs listes qui existent déjà. Voici un commentaire du programmateur vétéran André Paquet :

Chaque fois que des listes du genre sont dressées le regard est
toujours biaisé !
D’une part parce que les gens consultyés sont plus ou
moins représentatifs, ou que les circonstances du sondage sont dûes à
des facteurs tout aussi circonstanciels !

Leonard Helmrich me racontait lors de son passage aux RIDM que l’IDFA
ont fait un sondage semblabe avant le Festival auprès des spectateurs
de l’événement et que une fois le résultat compilé il n’y avait aucun
film de Joris Ivens !!!

Je trouve que la liste publiée par la Revue DOX en 2003 à l’occasion de
leur 50e numéro est assez représentative… et ce n’est pas parce que
j’y ai contribué un texte sur Histoire de Vent de Ivens, mais les
personnes consultées provenaient de tous les pays du monde. Par la
suite ils ont demandé à des programmateurs, cinéastes, écrivains,
critiques de faire un texte sur les 50 films ayant obtenus le plus de

En 1989 quand j’ai organisé DOCUMENTAIRE SE FÊTE à L’ONF j’avais fait
de même pour arriver à la programmation des 52 films retraçant UNE
‘hisitoire du documentaire. Parmis les personnalités consultées on
retrouve: Santiago Alvarez, Emile de Antonio,Peter Von Bagh, Michel
Brault, Haile Gerima, Jill Godmillow, Bernard Gosselin, Joris Ivens,
Johan Van der Keuken, Allan King, Bonnie Sherr-Klein, Jean-Claude
Labrecque, Arthur Lamothe, Richard Leacock, Colin Low, Mira Nair, Julia
Reichert, Helga Reidemeister,Jean Rouch, Henri Storck, Klaus Wildenhan.

Il y a cette tendance chez nos amis états-uniens à tout ramener à leur
et cela vaut autant pour la fiction que pour le documentaire.”

Et voici une bonne nouvelle, dans quelques jours je vais publier les deux listes mentionnées par André.

(Merci à Dijana Lazar pour l’aide avec ce blogue)