Millefiore “Millie” Clarkes and Anne Pick are the winners of this year’s DOC Institute Honours. The filmmakers received the BMO–DOC Vanguard Award and the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award, respectively, on December 11 at the annual DOC party in Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. The BMO–DOC Vanguard Award honours an emerging filmmaker in Canadian documentary. Clarkes receives $40,000 in in-kind services from Canadian production supplier Sim-International and a $1000 cash prize from the Bank of Montreal as part of the recognition. The Rogers-DOC Luminary Award honours an industry veteran who has been a notable champion for documentary while inspiring and supporting peers in the field.
BMO–DOC Vanguard Award winner: Millefiore Clarkes
Clarkes, born in Toronto and raised/based in Prince Edward Island, is best known for her recent documentary The Song and the Sorrow. The doc profiles singer Catherine MacLellan and her experience growing up with her songwriter father, Gene, who took his life following struggles with mental illness. Sorrow adds to Clarkes’ eclectic body of short films, experimental work, and music videos that evoke a signature lyricism with a unique voice.
But Clarkes, speaking with POV, says she happily fell into documentary by happenstance. “I’m actually a poet, but I picked up a camera instead of a pen,” observes Clarkes. “My first love with filmmaking happened as a solo journey.” Clarkes says she found her passion while travelling with her camera and recording impressions of the world. After that, she says it was a process of “gathering that all up, swirling it away, and then spending hours in the edit suite.”
Hailing from the smallest of Canada’s provinces and one that is relatively quiet on the filmmaking scene, Clarkes says she’s developed her voice within the freedoms and limitations of a modest filmmaking community. “Since I make films in PEI, my sense of what a career is and should be is perhaps different than if I was in a big city,” admits Clarkes. “I’m able to make a bigger ripple in the small pond that I live in, but sometimes that ripple stops at the boundaries of the province.”
Clarkes’ films, which generally defy convenient categorization, favour rhythmic and abstract explorations of the world through the senses. Her films come to life in the editing. Clarkes says this process is easily her favourite part of the production. “Everything is rhythmic for me,” observes Clarkes. “I like the lyricism of it all.”
The filmmaker says that her process of developing a relationship with the material and shaping it into something greater is one thread that connects her diverse body of work. “It’s a pulse,” says Clarkes when asked what connects her wide range of projects. “It’s a rhythm that weaves many strains together, but there’s always a musical thread, a sonic thread, visuals, and colours. Music videos are such a great testing ground to play with those elements.”
The culmination of this experimentation is arguably her award-winning feature The Song and the Sorrow, which opened the 2018 edition of Toronto’s Rendezvous with Madness Festival and used MacLellan’s story to invite necessary conversations on mental illness. Clarkes says that touring with MacLellan and engaging in conversations with audiences was a powerful experience. “In a way, it’s the film that I’m most proud of,” says Clarkes. “I had a wonderful team at the National Film Board with [producer] Rohan Fernando and my executive producer Annette Clark, and, of course, Catherine MacLellan.”
Although Clarkes knew her subject prior to making The Song and the Sorrow, she says that her friend’s openness took the project in new directions. “I really admired her courage and vulnerability and her determination to be vulnerable for the camera,” observes Clarkes. “I think she’s inspired a lot of people to open up about their own struggles.”
Looking to the future, Clarkes says that she feels a responsibility as documentary filmmaker to use the tools at her disposal to engage audiences with the issues of the day. “But for me, the underlying issue of our time is climate change and ecological collapse. I see it as pertaining to everything,” says Clarkes. “We have to keep bringing it up in as many different ways as we can and raise consciousness and we have to do it in ways that aren’t heavy handed, didactic, or, in a way, political.” Clarkes adds that her next project hopes to engage everyday people with the concerns and feelings about climate change, and draw upon the lyricism of her earlier works to invite the audience into the conversation.
Rogers-DOC Luminary Award winner: Anne Pick
With over 40 years in Canadian documentary, the Australian-born Pick has furthered the industry through both her films and everyday activism. Pick’s credits include Ryan’s Well (2001), directed by Lalita Krishna; Ronnie Hawkins ‘Still Alive and Kickin’ (2004), which won a Gemini Award; Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking (2007), recipient of numerous honours including a Directors Guild of Canada Award nomination; A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics (2015), directed by Oscar winner John Zaritsky; the multi-award winning Gambling on Extinction (2015), and, most recently, The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World (2018), which was a nominee for the Donald Brittain Award at the Canadian Screen Awards.
For the veteran producer, receiving the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award is an opportunity to look forward as well as back. “It sounds cliché to say that I’m humbled, but I am,” admits Pick, speaking with POV. “I’m humbled because it’s an honour for someone who’s inspired and influenced others. That is inherently what we all do as documentarians. We’re inspired by someone or a story and we want to tell that story. And in doing so we inspire someone else.”
Pick attributes her relationship with DOC to her growth as a filmmaker. “The DOC community is my family,” says Pick.
Pick recalls joining DOC after leaving a 12-year post at CBC to pursue a career as an independent filmmaker. “When you start out, it’s you, your brain, a computer, and a phone and you’re on your own,” says Pick. “It’s important to know that there’s a group of like-minded people who have the same goal of telling stories.” Pick says this element of community included sharing templates for documents, budgeting tips, and pooling resources—a spirit that continues today.
“We work in isolation a lot,” observes Pick, “and we don’t come together in groups until we have our crew and we’re out on the road, and then again when the film’s done. The organization fills in those gaps.”
Pick, whose win coincides with the 30th anniversary of her membership with the Documentary Organization of Canada, says that everyday people were her inspiration for pursuing documentary. “Ordinary people who in their own lives have the strength and courage to inspire others,” observes Pick. The filmmaker’s legacy of inspiring others is evident not only in her documentaries, but in her involvement with DOC, which includes several years as chair and co-chair of DOC’s national board, well as being a founding member of Hot Docs and enjoying an all-hands-on-deck role with the festival that has exploded into North America’s premiere documentary event.
As a filmmaker, Pick’s career includes several milestones of record. Her early work with the CBC includes telling stories about everyday people in the first documentary series shot on video for the public broadcaster. “Trudeau had just introduced his multiculturalism policy and no one really knew what that was about,” recalls Pick. “I set out to make a 16-part series on our multicultural issues, Islam, racism, systemic racism, race riots, and sharing new information about the immigrant communities amongst us.”
Despite pioneering a broadcaster’s transition from film to video, and working in documentary as production shifted from video to digital, Pick sees few changes in her role as a filmmaker. “Technology has changed the work in terms of practicality and money, but it hasn’t changed what we do,” says Pick. “We’re all just storytellers.”
Pick’s work as a storyteller includes expanding opportunities through co-production, like Canada’s first official treaty documentary co-production with Australian partners. Her 2002 film Helen’s War: Portrait of a Dissident offered a milestone Canada-Australia co-production with its portrait of anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, whom doc fans will remember from Terre Nash’s Oscar winner If You Love this Planet.
“So many filmmakers today who want to make a film with a bigger budget have no choice but to try the co-production route because there just isn’t enough money in the system,” observes Pick. “We don’t have enough real estate in our broadcasters for single documentaries, so without financing from around the world, we’re not going to get some important films made.”
However, Pick adds that her experience with co-production offers a valuable tip for future documentary vanguards. “The story has to work at both ends,” notes Pick, emphasizing that co-production opportunities work best when the partnering country and its audience are logical fits for the story.
Pick’s role in the documentary field extends to mentorship and advisory positions including a seat on the board of directors of Toronto’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. This year, DOC also expanded its membership to include complimentary access for Indigenous filmmakers. “There’s such an incredible body of talent and we need to really be working more together,” says Pick, who hopes that the aspect of community that supported filmmakers like herself can bolster emerging Indigenous talents and continue to expand the audience for essential stories through documentary.
“DOC often says that documentary is Canada’s art form,” observes Pick. “We have to hang onto that. We have to keep reminding people that we have a legacy to protect. We need to lobby to make sure there is more space to provide opportunities for different kinds of documentaries to be made.”