CanDocs – Summer 2005

Canadian documentary survey

20 mins read

BRITISH COLUMBIA — Katherine Dodds

The Communist Joke Book Vancouver Screen Siren Leah Mallen met UK director Ben Lewis (of BBC Art Safari fame), at an art conference in Ottawa. Lewis had pitched a feature doc idea at IDFA, for a historical account of communist jokes.

As for Mallen, she was fascinated by the concept of how the fall of communism was assisted by the telling of jokes and the humour lurking within what is usually portrayed as a very grim chapter of history. Most particularly she was interested in the jokes themselves, which will be animated for the film. Screen Siren came on board for 20% in an international co-production deal and Mallen will be producing the animation as well as the music.

Says Mallen: “I knew I had an interesting project on my hands when one of the jokes in Ben’s proposal described two kinds of Hells, a capitalist one, and a communist one. I also liked the challenge of approaching a documentary in this way, using animation, which is a rare format.” To create the 14 animated jokes she is teaming up with Vancouver School of Animation professor Moose Pagan and his company Reel Wonders. She will also be choosing a Canadian composer. Lewis is currently in Berlin, and has been shooting in Romania. He will deliver the film in October. A French version of the film will be available.

A Screen Siren and Alegria (Paris) international co-production. Producer/Writer Christine Camdessus. Director Ben Lewis. Animation & Music Producer Leah Mallen. Funding to date includes Rogers Cable Fund and The Documentary Channel. Financing from Europe includes BBC, ARTE, TV5, YLE, SVT, CNC and SBS.

Greenpeace: The Inside Story

This Omni Films Greenpeace doc is based on the recent book (published by Raincoast) by Rex Weyler. He’s one of the kinder/gentler founders of Greenpeace, and former editor of the Vancouver Dragonfly Media publication, Shared Vision.

In the 1970s, a seemingly motley group of men and women were involved with Greenpeace, a Vancouver movement destined to go from homegrown to a major international export. Early Greenpeace activists, although they didn’t know it at the time, were ensuring that the word “environmentalism” would be firmly planted on the global map of consciousness forever. They were also paving the way for a model of media activism that has spawned much meddling ever since.

Producer/Director Leigh Badgley was herself very inspired by Rex Weyler and his book. Says Badgley: “For me, this is a larger-than-life story—a tale of great and epic adventure. I want this film to inspire people from Barrie, Ontario to Dublin, Ireland to rekindle their own personal passions; to stand up and take action. I want people to be reminded that even one person, acting from that honest, noble place inside himself, really can change the world.”

Produced by Lodestar Productions and Omni Film Productions. Producer/director Leigh Badgley. Funders include Global Television, SRC (Societé Radio Canada), Knowledge Network, BC Film, CWIP, CTF EIP (Canadian Television Fund Equity Investment Program and LFP (Licence Fee Program) .

Dark Waters of Crime

Producer/director Sylvie Peltier envisioned a crime series with a difference. Simultaneously, she had been consideringa series about the ocean. In the end, what came out in the wash was a series concept where water forms the common element in a series of separate crimes.

Says Peltier: “It will be like a detective story, like a mystery, with an emphasis on how water complicated the plot. But not just by finding a typical predator. I’m really trying to push the crime genre beyond the normal confines of the basic murder. I want to also look at other crimes like fraud and trafficking. The water angle allows us to do that, otherwise the series is all about killers. It may even go as far as to look at over-fishing as a crime.”

In this underwater “CSI” often the real source of the crime has gone the way of the currents. For criminals, water is a perfect accomplice: it erases, engulfs and takes away bodies, weapons and clues. For detectives, it is the enemy.

Produced by Red Letter Films.Producer/director Sylvie Peltier. Creative Producer Sophie Arthaud. Development Support from BC Film and Telefilm. Canal Don board for French-Canada. Peltier will be pitching the 13-part series at Banff and is seeking an English Language broadcaster and/or an international co-producer.

Carts of Darkness

Director Murray Siple’s website features a quote from Heart of Darkness next to a video clip of North Vancouver characters shown riding their stolen carts down a steep highway at speeds that can sometime stop 70MPH. This is the speedy side to the seedy, and we are urged to consider à la Joseph Conrad, our “remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.”

Murray Siple always travels with wheels. He used to make films about extreme sports, usually funded by snowboarding companies, until he was injured. Rebuilding his film career from his wheelchair, Siple says: “I noticed these obnoxious drunk guys in North Van, returning bottles. They were interesting characters and I thought I could get access, but I didn’t know about the shopping cart riding at first.”

What he uncovered was a unique combination of social forces: affluent North Van neighbourhoods where valuable empties are left in blue boxes ripe for the picking; a bottle return depot conveniently located at the bottom of a steep highway and easy to steal shopping carts. All at once, a subculture of fast carts and renegade recyclers was born! And when the NFB came on board for development financing, Siple was back in business.

Produced by the NFB. Producer TraceyFriesen. Director Murray Siple. Currently inearly development, seeking broadcast pre-sales for a TV one-hour to deliver Fall 2006.

— Kalli Paakspuu


Nik Sheehan of Cell Productions is making FLicKeR, a feature documentary about underground pop cult guru Brion Gysin and his Dream Machine. Based on the critically-acclaimed Chapel of Extreme Experience written by John Geiger, FLicKeR takes a psychedelic journey around the globe highlighting an international who’s who of writers, poets, musicians and artists with stunning visuals brought to life through a rock-symphonic soundtrack.

Produced by Maureen Judge of Makin’ Movies; Directed by Nik Sheehan. Development support from The National Film Board of Canada and Bravo! Canada.

Heart of a Poet

Heart of a Poet is a half-hour documentary series that takes us deep into the creative dreams and existential dilemmas of contemporary Canadian poets. It’s a hip, youthful show with a sense of humour that paints portraits of today’s poets and lets viewers get to know the community in all its various forms, alternate incarnations and unfettered diversity. The series also features artists’ work through spontaneous recitations, stylized bumpers and readings at the renowned Art Bar Reading Series in Toronto.

Produced by Maureen Judge of Makin’Movies Inc. and Tina Hahn of Symmetree media. Broadcasters committed are Book Television and Bravo! Canada in association with Telefilm Canada

The Last Chapter according to the Black Sheep

Makiko Ishihara, the black sheep of her family, takes a bitter-sweet journey in an attempt to figure out her father. When he died, Ishihara’s father left two things: his memoirs and a digital video camera. In his 87 page typed document, he vividly recorded his childhood, school, military life—and his disappointment in his children.

The last chapter, which is incomplete, will be reconstructed as a story from family stills with animated heads and legs, 8mm film and home video footage.

Directed by Makiko Ishihara. Funding for The Last Chapter according to the Black Sheep is from the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.

Wal Mart Nation

Andrew Munger is developing Wal Mart Nation, a documentary road movie that follows the exploits of activists whose life focus is battling Wal Mart. Confirmed characters include a young female union organizer, a former Miss America, a veteran American activist known as “the sprawl buster” and Joel Bakan of The Corporation. The filmmakers have secured permission from Wal Mart to film at the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting, which is best described as a cross between a fundamentalist prayer meeting and a Republican national convention. Activists plan to converge on this year’s meeting and make life a little hotter than normal for Wal Mart executives.

Produced by Andrew Munger and Ultramagnetic Productions.

Becoming Human

This documentary will examine the crusading work of Canadian physician James Orbinski, former international president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who has worked in many of the world’s crisis zones, including Rwanda, Sudan, Afghanistan and Malawi. Orbinski passionately argues that we must learn to become more “human” in a global community and that we really are our brother’s keeper.

Produced by Peter Raymont of White Pine Pictures with a commitment from the National Film Board of Canada.

A Clinic Called Hope: Aids in Lesotho

This White Pines’ production will chronicle the groundbreaking but often frustrating work of Canadian doctors, nurses and pharmacists in an HIV/AIDS clinic in Leribe, Lesotho. It’s a tiny country in southern Africa with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world. Coordinated by the Ontario Hospital Association, Dr. Philip Berger and his medical team work closely with local medical practitioners to deal with the practical and ethical issues surrounding the administration of newly arrived antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), which can save lives but are in seriously short supply.

Produced by Peter Raymont of White Pine Pictures and directed by Patrick Reed. Funding by CBC The Nature of Things, SRC (Societé Radio Canada—French CBC), CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and CTF (Canadian Television Fund).

Jamaican Proud

Jamaica was considered a tropical paradise by many that were born there in the twentieth century. Although the Canadian climate is a far cry from tropics, many Jamaicans now choose to make Canada their home. Jamaican Proud will feature such characters as Michael Lee-Chin, a Jamaican Canadian who built AIC Mutual Funds from $800,000 in 1987 to over $14 billion today and Dr. Mavis Burke, a Canadian educator, who founded P.A.C.E. (Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education) for pre-school programs in Jamaica and in Canada.

Rick Davis of R.W.D. Productions Inc. is producer/director with production financing committed from OMNI Television.

— Laura Turek

Jump! A Dreamer’s Day

Dan Emery and Mathieu Wacowich recently completed their first stint as directors on Jump! A Dreamer’s Day. The short documentary reveals the life of Jimmy Jump, a Barcelona native who is striving to become famous by breaking onto fields during major sports events and running before the cameras for as long as he can before getting dragged away by Security. The project was conceived in July 2004 when the two filmmakers watched Jimmy Jump run live on television during the Euro Cup finals and decided that they must be the first to bring his story to screen. The film was shot over two days in Barcelona, entirely by Wacowich, using the video capabilities of his digital still camera. Receiving long distance telephone coaching by Emery on how to frame shots and ask questions, Wacowich remembered the most important thing—to get b-roll footage so it could all be cut together. The pair edited through the winter, and submitted the doc to festivals across Canada, the US and Europe.

Produced by Takeover Films. Directed and produced by Dan Emery and Mathieu Wacowich. A Dreamer’s Day has no funders, no budget and no broadcaster, but was recently accepted into the Winnipeg International Film Festival for its World Premiere in June 2005!

Montréal Yiddish

Montréal Yiddish is a one-hour doc on the history of Montreal’s oldest ‘minority’ or cultural community. The film will examine how and why Yiddish declined from the vibrant language and culture it was, to a distant memory with the exception of a few colourful words—mensch, nosh, kibitz—that are still used by most Jews today. Yiddish is currently undergoing a revival but it is not expected to ever regain the importance that it had during the first half of the 20th century in Montreal.

Director Erica Pomerance says Montréal Yiddishis a subject very dear to her since her four grandparents were all Yiddish speakers. Pomerance plans to follow a young Jewish woman as she explores the history of Montreal’s Yiddish culture and the contribution it made to Québec society.

Produced by Monique Simard and Productions Virage, in collaboration with Irene Ellenberger and Philippe Amiguet. Erica Pomerance, director. In development with Télé-Québec with some preliminary shooting planned this summer. Production is planned for 2006.

Le Pacte

Erica Pomerance is also developing a one-hour documentary on suicide among young natives. Le Pacte is an insider’s look at the strategies of suicide prevention at work in Québec’s Atikamekw First Nation. The film will follow Mélanie, a 30-year-old native social worker, as she trains a group of teens to be peer resource-persons with suicidal youth in the community of Manawan. In the process, the teens reconnect with elders who put them back in touch with their cultural heritage, spirituality and traditional methods of healing.

Produced by Le Groupe ECP. Erica Pomerance will co-write and co-direct with native filmmaker Yvon Dubé. The one-hour documentary is currently in development for APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Fund).

— Steven James May

Bear River Inspirations & A Hard Chance

“Lovely, mythic” is how Tim Wilson describes his new home of Bear River, Nova Scotia. Having relocated his family there from Ontario in 2002, Wilson is currently “re-cutting and expanding” his award-winning film Upright Grand, which originally aired on CBC. “It’s a harrowing profile of (my) mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, told through her love of the piano,” states Wilson.

Produced by Tim Wilson and Personamedia. Written and Directed by Tim Wilson. Current version for the Documentary Channel.

Wilson is also putting the finishing touches on A Hard Chance, a profile of Nova Scotia singer-songwriter, schooner captain and adventurer Tom Gallant.

Produced by Personamedia. Directed by Tim Wilson. Broadcasters onboard include CBC and the Hallmark Channel in the U.S.

Two Communities Become One

“I’m heavy into pre-production on a sociological comparative study of two communities,” says Atlantic documentary filmmaker Belinda Bethune. “One is the Prestons, the oldest and largest indigenous Black community in Canada, and the other is Soweto, one of the largest Black townships in Johannesburg, South Africa.” Bethune has been researching the project for the past two years. For the film, she plans to exchange youth from both communities for a period of three months in order to capture their reactions and experiences.

Produced and directed by Belinda Bethune who is currently seeking development financing.

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