CanDocs – Spring 2005

Canadian documentary roundup

24 mins read

— Katherine Dodds

Paris Stories

Paris StoriesThe Fiction of Mavis Gallant tells the story of Canada’s famously “unknown” writer. One of The New Yorker’s most frequently published short story writers, Gallant often appears in anthologies of great American writers. A Montrealer who has been living in Paris since 1950 yet writes in English, Gallant has devoted 60 years of her life to the craft of the short story. Both proper and radical, Mavis Gallant is an iconoclast.

It was Gallant’s absolute dedication to her work that drew producer/director Lynn Booth to explore her life. Says Booth, “Mavis arranged her entire life so that she could write.” She adds, “It wasn’t always easy for a woman of her era to accomplish what she did.” Gallant has survived for years on her writing without publishing a single novel. She was recently awarded the PEN Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement.

A Make Believe Media Production. Produced and directed by Lynn Booth. In production for broadcast on BRAVO!, TVOntario, Access, Knowledge Network. With funding from the Canadian Independent Film Video Fund, CTF, and BC Film.

Breaking Ranks

When Jeremy Hinzman crossed the border to Canada on January 3, 2005, he became the first US soldier to desert to this country since the Vietnam War. As he waits for Canada’s refugee board to decide his fate, other US soldiers are following his path. Breaking Ranks is a feature length documentary about these American soldiers seeking refuge in Canada, this time from fighting the war in Iraq.

Heroes or cowards? That old question plays out ominously in an era of globalization, terrorism, and the ever more fraught relationship between the US and Canada. Writer/director Michelle Mason wonders how the film will be received on both sides of the border. “It’s a challenging time, and Canada as a society is changing. The issue of desertion calls into question the very idea of a ‘voluntary’ army. So many young soldiers joined the military to go to school, to get medical care for their families. And now the US is not living up to these soldiers’ own ideals.” What remains to be seen is how Canada will respond.

Screen Siren Pictures in co-production with the National Film Board. Produced by Trish Dolman and Leah Mallen (Screen Siren) and Tracey Friesen (NFB). Director/Writer Michelle Mason. Associate Producer Jeff Schutts. In production this summer. Seeking US and Canadian broadcast pre-sales.


What is dirt and who is dirty? These are the earthy questions that director Meghna Haldar is digging into. The idea for the doc came to her mind as she was traveling from Texas to Canada. “I saw a lot of construction,” says Haldar, “and at every one of the sites, workers were wearing outfits that made them look like they were out to conquer space. It made me wonder what it was that they were protecting themselves from.” She notes that while health issues are valid, her vision will illuminate the muddy waters of cultural difference. “I grew up in India and there, women and children work in construction. And they don’t have all that protective gear.”

Now wrapping up the second stage of development, the film will be a personal journey, an essay that will excavate the layers of meaning from this primal topic. The very stuff of gods and humans, our concepts of dirt define the dividing line between civilized and primitive, culture and nature, and that which is revered or reviled. Says Haldar, “The way we treat dirt is the way we treat each other.” The film will include animation, stock footage, as well as new material.

In development with the NFB. Producer Tracey Friesen. Director/Writer Meghna Haldar.

Genocide – A Three-Part Exploration

Producer, director and writer Erez T. Yanuv Barzilay, who began his media career as a TV journalist, has been driven to explore the topic of genocide for over a decade. “I was born in Jerusalem,” says Barzilay, “and I have no answer for the situation I see worsening in Israel and Palestine.” He was working for an Israeli TV station in 1992, when he was one of the first journalists to travel extensively in war-torn Cambodia.

For this documentary series, Barzilay is drawing examples from the aftermaths of the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan, all places he has repeatedly visited over the years. There are signs of hope in the recovery efforts of people in these places of devastation. He adds, “in particular what is happening in Rwanda, against all odds, is unbelievable. This is my life’s work right now—each case of genocide has a message for humanity. With the documentary series I’ll try to figure out these legacies. Ultimately my hope is to offer some ways to prevent the next genocide from happening.” It’s not an easy goal to achieve. And it’s a hard topic to sell to broadcasters. Barzilay originally received development funding for the Cambodia project from the NFB and the United Nations Associations in Canada. Now he’s seeking funding for the three-part series that will concentrate on signs of hope in these places, through stories of children. He’s interested in alternative funding opportunities, perhaps with stakeholder groups dealing with the issue of genocide, as well as alternative grassroots distribution options that the new cross-platform future may offer.

A Shai Lah Production. Produced and directed by Erez T. Yanuv Barzilay.

— Kalli Paakspuu

The Jessie Keith Story

While researching family history in the Ontario Archives, producer/writer Barbara Jones found a witness affidavit from her great-great grandfather concerning a gruesome crime that echoed the Jack the Ripper case. Young Jessie Keith was brutally mutilated and murdered near Listowel, Ontario by Almede Chattelle, a mentally challenged vagrant who had turned to handouts, theft and wearing women’s clothing. One day, as Jessie Keith walked home, Chattelle attacked and savagely mutilated her. It was a horrific crime with no apparent motive that led to an exhaustive manhunt, and now, it will become an intriguing documentary.

Produced by Sailor Jones Media. Script development is funded by CKCO TV, Kitchener

Gospel Challenge

Blending real-life emotional drama with glorious music, Gospel Challenge is a six-part series following an entertaining and inspiring story of people seizing the opportunity to do something they’ve only imagined: to sing out and be heard. The docu-soap series features three choir leaders over six days as they rehearse a 16-member amateur choir for a high-profile performance in front of a live audience and a panel of music adjudicators.

Producers Jason Charters and Liam Romalis of Riddle Films are currently in the development stage with Vision TV as the primary funder and broadcaster.

Raising Valhalla

Raising Valhalla is a documentary that follows the behind the scenes preparations for the new Opera House in Toronto which will soon be filled with the sounds of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. A team of cinematographers using hand held HD cameras, working with director Terrence MacCartney-Filgate, will capture the myriad stories of subjects both here and abroad.

Produced by Jeremy Edwardes (Ryan, Alter Egos) for Coptor Productions Inc. Development begins in April 2005 with participation from Bravo.

Who the Hell is Harold Innis?

Who the Hell is Harold Innis? is a feature documentary on one of Canada’s most distinguished scholars and philosophers. Innis’ historical investigations in the 1930s set the imaginative framework for future generations to see Canada as a distinct culture in North America. His groundbreaking Empire and Communications and The Bias of Communication resonate more clearly today than in his own time. Northrop Frye saw him as a “prophetic visionary” and Marshall McLuhan expanded on Innis’ theories with his popular phrase “the medium is the message.”

Produced by John Walker Productions. Development funding from TV Ontario, the National Film Board, Telefilm and, of course, the Harold Innis Foundation.

Searching for the Real Kabbalah

A two-hour documentary from David Ostriker, Searching for the Real Kabbalah, is about an ancient form of Jewish Mysticism. The film promises to deliver the substance behind the hype. The doc tackles its mystical subject by focusing on the lives of two individuals on spiritual quests involving Kabbalah. Using verité sequences to probe their expanding consciousnesses, the film incorporates personal reflections on Kabbalah from renowned celebrities, theologians, scholars, mystics and gurus devoted to Kabbalah. Their desire to uncover deeper truths propels the film through an exciting exploration.

Produced by Tekhelet Productions. Producer / Director: David Ostriker. Development funded by Telefilm Canada along with Vision TV. Vision is committed to 55% of the production budget. Principal photography is scheduled from June to October. Searching for the Real Kabbalah will premiere in the Fall of 2006.

The Armoury

Built at the turn of the 20th century, there is an armoury in every major city in Canada, some of which are now being sold and re-purposed. While telling the story of armouries in general, The Armoury focuses on Niagara Falls where the city bought the building under pressure from local veterans. An ex-soldier seeks out the meaning of landmarks and the priority of preserving Canadian history.

Director/Producer Jon O’Connor is actively seeking partners or an executive producer.

The Big Picture

The Big Picture confronts the power and impact of photographs through famous photographers who share their stories, iconic images and passion over 30 years.

Produced by Jared Lorenz for The Terminal Video Communications. Executive Producer: Tony Tobias. Written and directed by Marcine Linder. The Big Picture is in early stages of production with financing provided by Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, The Terminal, and Marcine Linder.

Late Harvest

Producer Jason Wessel is developing Late Harvest, a documentary that follows two displaced prairie youths on a quest back to find out more about their roots. A war rages in Canada between a series of interdependent players: young and old, city and country, industry and consumers, technology and nature. Late Harvest takes a journey through the wild-techno-culture of the Canadian agricultural community from the Dirty 30s through today with Jason Wessel’s photography capturing the unbelievable scale, beauty and diversity of prairie life and landscape through the seasons.

Produced by Jason Wessel for The Terminal Video Communications. Written and directed by Jared Lorenz. Development support is from The Terminal, Ride Media, and SCN.

— Laura Turek

George: From Athens to Beijing

In 2003, director Daniel Cross was sitting down to lunch in a restaurant in China when he met George Sapounidis. Cross’ curiosity was peaked by this foreigner sporting Jesus sandals and carrying a guitar with the Canadian flag on it. His was impressed when the Stats Canada employee, who lives with his parents in Nepean, ordered lunch influent Mandarin. But he was blown away by the crowd of Chinese girls that gathered around their table when George picked up his guitar and sang Chinese songs during dessert. “(the girls were) dancing, singing…they were enchanted! It was like being with Elvis, albeit one who looked like Don Ho or perhaps Bruno Gerussi. I knew right then and there that I wanted to travel around China with George and his music,” says Cross.

George: From Athens to Beijing follows the Greek/Canadian as he reinvents himself as a Chinese folk star and is treated like Elvis wherever he goes in the People’s Republic of China. The film documents George as he performs to a TV audience of 600 million during the Chinese New Year. However, this success is not enough for George. His dream is tosing at the Closing Ceremonies for the2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. When asked whether part of that dream came true, Cross says, “You’ll have to see the film to find out.”

Produced by Eye Steel Film. Director: Daniel Cross. Producers: Mila Aung-Thwin, Daniel Cross. Broadcasters on board: CTVBBC-Storyville and TV/2 Denmark. A theatrical version of the film is scheduled for festival release in time for Hot Docs.

World Bites

Shelley Tepperman, co-creator of the cooking show, World Bites, used to have a strong aversion to food. “Until I was 17 I lived mostly on iceberg lettuce, peanut butter sandwiches and bananas. Eating with the family was onerous because there was so little food I liked in the home repertoire. Not long after, the discoveries began. First real cheddar cheese, then mushrooms, tarragon, shrimp biryani… My world cracked open,” laughs Tepperman.

Studying languages also helped turn this finicky eater into a real food fan. “I discovered that other cultures had flavours, vegetables and spices I’d never heard of. I went nuts! I wanted to learn more.” Tepperman turned to television but was dissatisfied with the cooking shows that were available. “Most of the shows are basically just ‘how-to’ formats that take the food out of its cultural context.” She teamed up with Maria Francesca Lodico, a Montreal-based food writer, in order to explore food and context more deeply. The result was a pilot for a docu-food and travel show that looks at the ethnic origins surrounding the dish that is being prepared. “Food is alchemy. It’s magic! It’s a great way to get to know people and learn more about the traditions and cultures that make up Canadian society,” adds Tepperman.

Executive Produced by Copie Zéro in association with CIBO Productions. Producer/Director: Shelley Tepperman. License fee for the pilot provided by OMNI 1, who have since decided not to pick up the series. Tepperman and Lodico are currently shopping around for another network to call home.

Notre Pays est Ici

During the 1990s, more than 40,000 Algerians came to Canada to escape their war-torn nation. They came to build new lives. They worked. They went to school. However, approximately 1,000 of these refugees were never officially accepted yet were allowed to stay in Canada while the government decided their fate.

In 2002, the “moratorium” on non-status Algerians came to an end and these same people suddenly faced deportation. Mohamed Cherfi, spokesperson for the Committee for Non-Status Algerians, led the movement for their rights. Algerians began to seek sanctuary in churches in order to avoid deportation. Cherfi also sought sanctuary in a Quebec church, but for the first time in Canadian history, police violated that right, stormed the church and sent him to Batavia, NY where he awaits deportation in a US federal prison.

Notre Pays est Ici follows the lives and struggles of Cherfi and other non-status Algerians as they live with the daily fear of being sent back to a war-torn country. “What does this tell us? We want nice quiet refugees and immigrants who will work menial jobs and keep to themselves. As soon as they speak up when they see an injustice, what do we do? We put them in jail,” says director Malcolm Guy.

Produced by Productions Multi-Monde. Co-directed by Malcolm Guy and Eylem Kaftan and produced by Michelle Smith. Funding provided by Telefilm, Sodec, and the Canadian Television Fund with a broadcast license from Tele Quebec. Delivery is planned for the end of 2005.

— Steven James May

Heads Up

Anyone who played hockey as a child remembers that fateful/landmark/scary-as-heck season when body checking became allowed during play. Separating the mice (including this POV reporter) from the men and women, full contact body checking is the standard of professional hockey in Canada.

Writer/director Adam Liley plans to capture this pivotal season in a hockey player’s career in his new documentary Heads Up. The film will accompany a group of young male Peewee level hockey players as they “engage in this twisted rite of passage and deal with the pressure to successfully pass their first test of manhood,” says Liley. Told from a kid’s point of view, the film and its director want to examine “how this rite of passage not only creates conflict in the kids’ lives, but how it also creates two opposing sets of expectations. In the hockey arena, aggression among young males is encouraged, while out in the social arena it is condemned.”

Barrie Dunn of Trailer Park Productions and Annette Clarke of the NFB are producing. Kent Nason has signed on as DOP. Adamm Liley is writing and directing. Heads Up heads to camera mid-March, 2005.

Wise Weather Whys

Perplexed over why the sky is blue or what makes the wind? Meteorologist/host/producer Richard Zurawski, is setting out to explain such questions in his new factoid series, Wise Weather Whys. Richard confesses to spending “his whole life looking up at the sky, chasing rainbows and snowflakes” and he’s now taken it upon himself to explain the science behind his passion. Targeted at kids aged 6 to 12, each Wise Weather Whys two-minute factoid will be a “weather mini-adventure, jumping headlong into the myriad of weather connections and facts that makes weather fun and fascinating, peaking the interest with activities, animation and actual weather,” states Zurawski. Each broadcast will also include a multimedia web site related to each topic. According to Zurawski, Wise Weather Whys will strive to bring “humour, history, science, activities, technology and environmental perspective” to our understanding of weather and climate.

Produced by Halifax-based PAL Productions, owned by Richard Zurawski. 65 × 2 minutes for Discovery Kids Canada. Principle Photography to commence late May, 2005.

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