Ali Kazimi Wins Governor General’s Award

By Pat Mullen

Filmmaker Ali Kazimi is among the winners for this year’s Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. Kazimi was the named a recipient of the 2019 Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award. The award honours Canadian artists in the fields of visual arts and media with a significant body of work and a career-long contribution to practices in the field. The news comes via an announcement today from the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the awards. Eight artists were named honourees for Governor General’s Award today with Kazimi being the lone filmmaker on the list.

Ali Kazimi has made a significant career using documentary form to preserve and promote images of diverse Canadians. His films involve extensive research, excavation, and restoration of rare moving images depicting early stories of immigrant experiences. He is perhaps best known for his 2004 film Continuous Journey, which tells the story of the Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship filled with 376 Indian passengers who crossed the ocean with hopes to immigrate to Canada in 1914. Officials detained the ship for two months before sending it back, denying its passengers entry to Canada during a time of peak immigration. Continuous Journey drew upon extremely rare footage of the Komagata Maru that many considered lost.

Through this doc and others, Kazimi’s films unearth and expose deeply-rooted histories of systemic racism in Canada. His other films include Narmada: A Valley Rises (1994), which won Best Political Documentary and Best Direction at Hot Docs; Runaway Grooms (2005); Random Acts of Legacy (2016), which received an honourable mention for Best Canadian Feature at from Hot Docs, and Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeffrey Thomas (1997). Photographer Jeff Thomas was also named one of this year’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award winners.

“[Kazimi’s] larger project of elucidating the often-underexposed histories and experiences of racialized peoples, and exploring complex intersections of colonialism, racism, and immigration through the moving image, has significantly contributed to Canadian cinema and video art,” said Karen Tisch, Arts Consultant and Executive Director of the Koffler Centre of the Arts, in a statement from the nomination committee.

“Throughout their outstanding careers, these artists have moved us, provoked us and stunned us,” added Simon Brault, director and CEO, Canada Council for the Arts. “They have shifted our outlooks toward new horizons, compelling us to see the world differently and sometimes even to take a stand on certain issues. Above all, they have triggered reflections within each of us that go far beyond words and images.”

Kazimi receives a cash prize of $25,000 with the award, along with a bronze medal to be bestowed upon him in a ceremony on March 28 at Rideau Hall. The Canada Council also commissioned new short films about each of the Governor General’s Award recipients in partnership with the Independent Media Arts Alliance. The short film about Kazimi, directed by Terry O’Neill and Tara Cooper, highlights the filmmaker’s process on Continuous Journey and the larger significance of his work: “I feel everyone has a story to tell,” says Kazimi in the film, “and all stories matter. And through the small stories, we get to know the world. And then I look at the people whose lives I’ve documented and any apprehension and anxiety I have dissolves. Because they are my touchstones.”

Additional winners named for the 2019 Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award are media artist Andrew James Paterson and visual artists COZIC (Yvon Cozic and Monic Brassard), Stephen Andrews, Marlene Creates. Curator Lee-Ann Martin was named the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution Award, while glass artist Susan Edgerley won the Saidye Bronfman Award.