RIP Pepita Ferrari (1952-2018)

Courtesy of the NFB

By Pat Mullen

The documentary community has lost a devoted advocate. Pepita Ferrari, filmmaker and former executive director of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), passed away in her home at Lac Brome on December 30, 2018. She was 66 years old.

“Documentary filmmaking and the Quebec film community have lost a dear friend,” said NFB Commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur in a statement from the Board. “As a writer, producer and filmmaker—and a generous mentor to emerging filmmakers—Pepita was a true champion of documentary cinema. Many of her works focused on the achievements of strong, pioneering women artists—and that is how we will remember Pepita Ferrari.”

Ferrari’s films as a director included the 1994 feature By Woman’s Hand, a production with the NFB that featured Oscar-nominee Kate Nelligan (The Prince of Tides) narrating a portrait of the the Beaver Hall Hill Group, a network of artists in Montreal. She honoured the art of documentary with 2008’s Capturing Reality, which featured interviews with 33 of the field’s top filmmakers including Jennifer Baichwal, Werner Herzog, Albert Maysles, Errol Morris, Alanis Obomsawin, and Nettie Wild. The film received a Gemini nomination. Ferrari also shared the stories of pioneering women in the three-part series The Petticoat Expeditions about the experiences of women in 19th century Canada. Drawing upon the words of women from the period, the film featured a mix of documentary and dramatic interpretations with narration by Helena Bonham Carter.

As an advocate, Ferrari’s work included several major contributions to POV. Among Ferrari’s work was a profile of Kartemquin Films on its 45th anniversary and a reflection on their longevity producing ground-breaking docs such as Hoop Dreams. Similarly, she provided a voice for innovations in documentary and encouraged filmmakers to constantly question the forms of their approach. She served as the executive director of DOC from 2015 to 2017. Among DOC’s initiatives during her tenure was the publication of a major report on philanthropic funding for documentaries in Canada, prepared by Maria De Rosa and Marilyn Burgess. Ferrari also served as a board member at Cinema Politica and was a programming jury member at RIDM, among other active roles in the documentary community.

To honour Ferrari’s memory, the NFB has released a playlist of her films and will relaunch the interactive companion to Capturing Reality on January 15. Stay tuned for more.