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Pointed View: What Inspires Me?

Office of the Governor General

Your Excellencies, I want to thank you for this beautifully designed award. It’s called Birds of a Feather and it is turned on the lathe of the designer and wordworker, Michael Hosaluk, from Saskatchewan. It’s an egg-shaped object of extreme beauty, made out of that distinctly Canadian symbol, the maple tree. It’s inlaid with lovely images of ravens, representing multi-culturalism and free expression in the arts.

This wooden egg could be an ostrich egg, or an egg from some mythical Canadian bird. It could be an egg from a bird of paradise; it could represent an egg of enlightenment, or of art, of creativity, of the sacred fire, le feu sacré, which burns within the hearts of all the fellow artists you have honoured here tonight.

I first heard that I would become a laureate of the Governor General’s Award when I received a call on my mobile phone while on a train pulling into Central Station in Amsterdam. I was on my way back from a trip to China with a group of Canadian documentary filmmakers. For someone who works around the world, it brought a tear to my eye, knowing that I was being recognized in my own country.

I will accept this award as a personal honour, but in very many ways I believe that I also stand in for all documentary filmmakers who work on the front lines of what we in Quebec call “creative documentaries,” or what we, in the rest of Canada, call “independent, point of view filmmaking.” In very many real ways I share this with them.

So, what inspires me? Why do I do what I do?

It’s the vermillion, ochre paint, which slashes though Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
It’s the magic 8 millimeter film camera that my father gave me when I was seven
It’s the pure, pure note of Joni Mitchell’s voice that we’ve all heard
It’s the pulse of my big heart, changing into a Maple Leaf
It’s the life force of Mahatma Gandhi’s simple hand-weaving loom,
In this new century, Gandhi’s handloom has been transposed
into the promise of a digital democracy
It’s human rights workers wherever they are in the world…
in the Philippines, in China, in Haiti, in Chile, in the mean streets of Canada and Quebec
It’s the song and dance of the Northern Lights in a Yukon sky
It’s the resonating screens, the visual poets, hopeless revolutionaries, kind gestures,
and grace
It’s the stillness in a Haiku poem by Basho
It’s Aboriginal elders painting their stories in the hinterland
The Songs of the Whales in the Fleuve
St. Laurent near Tadoussac
It’s the Emile de Antonios, the Donald Brittains,
the Katerina Cizeks, the Michel Braults, the Francis Miquets, the Mark Achbars, the Frank Coles, the Sylvie Groulxs, the Anand Patwardhans, the Hubert Saupers, the Jean-Daniel Lafonds, yes, and a million other documentary makers in Canada, and around the world, who are building what I call docu-mocracy
It’s the Noam Chomskys and socially responsible, engaged intellectuals, and a million other educators, caregivers and pacifists who are laying down their bodies, and their lives, on the line, every day of the year
It’s the young kids, and teenagers on the front lines of global, social, economic and ecological justice, and the next waves of enterprising, electric artists in my City-State, Montreal
It’s shared visions and voices overcoming despair with dreams coming face to interface with the cold winds of reality
It’s a joke from Kurt Vonnegut, or a turn of phrase from Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It’s an Oscar Peterson piano riff floating down the street
It’s the lives of every unknown artist, and of every woman artist whom conventional history has forgotten
It’s my 96 year-old Ukrainian Canadian grandmother who could not speak three words of English but knew how to smile
It’s my friends and family, my partner Christine, and daughter, Mira.
It’s your daughter, and your children,
your Excellencies.
They are the future
These are all the Saints of an un-named goddess which I will call the Art of Life, or the Life of Art
This is what inspires me.