A Gift from the Sea

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Something pretty amazing happened at the beach the other day!  I was walking along Baker’s beach, a really sunny stretch of rocky shore that we call “the far shore” here on the Island.  It’s a beach where my mom and her sisters grew up swimming, diving and clamming in the summers, just across the bay from my grandmother’s house.  It was low tide and I decided to walk toward the canal down along the low-tide line.   My feet were sinking into the wet, muddy sandy low-tide beach.  I was stepping over barnacled rocks and dodging clams, when suddenly I came across this sculpture half buried in the muddy sand.  It felt quite mystical to see this goddess-like carved stone figure suddenly revealed on the beach rising from the rocks and shells.  When I saw it, I was stunned.  It was a beautiful day at the beach, the late afternoon sun was warming the waters and a large, peaceful heron was silently fishing in the estuary where booth canal meets the sea.   I reached down quickly,  accepting this precious gift.  A gift from the sea. What did it mean?

 ***

On a different note, this week I heard of the sad passing of Marcel Simard, a documentary filmmaker and producer who established a really impressive career through his company Production Virages in Montreal, which he founded back in 1985.  It deeply saddens me that this “director, script writer, producer, husband, father and grandfather”  took his own life, deciding to leave this world, which  he must have been experiencing through unbearable pain over the last while.  I didn’t know Mr. Simard, but I have been working in the documentary film industry in Montreal, as an “emerging” filmmaker for the past five years.   I can say from my own few experiences that filmmaking, and the documentary genre in particular,  is an extremely tough business to survive in emotionally and financially.   It is difficult by its very nature.   Filmmakers usually start out with a dream to connect a human story of deep importance to a larger audience.  Often the story emerges from a place of insight and compassion, a desire to shed light, reveal, get inside an issue, and to – in some way, be it large or small- make a positive change in our world.  The human qualities of sensitivity and compassion that are necessary to make a good film sometimes do not go hand in hand with the kind of character it takes to weather financial stresses, complicated team collaboration and the ethical responsibilities we take on when a living film subject offers up their lives to us.  And yet this complicated set of responsibilities are all imperative to bring a film to completion.  In addition to the struggles built into the journey, there is the added financial consideration of trying to scrape enough funding together to get the story made, and then -if we succeed in developing a successful company – we take on the responsibilities we have towards our staff and overhead costs.

Montreal’s “The hour” – a weekly entertainment newspaper describes a state of “growing cultural poverty, exposing how linchpin independent production companies like Simard’s Virage – which champion subjects and issues (gasp) over profitability – are in the process of disappearing.”  Was Mr. Simard a victim of this growing “cultural poverty” and the changing nature of cultural funding across Canada?  What this means is that even well-established and talented filmmakers are not safe in their careers.  Mr. Simard was 64 years old when he committed suicide, he should have been planning his retirement and looking back on all his accomplishments, while mentoring a new wave of talented filmmakers.  Instead, he was declaring bankruptcy.  “…he’d put all his money from the sale of his house (on Champagneur street) into his production company last year, and a few days before he ended his life, had managed through painstaking labour and misery to reimburse – out of honour and solidarity – all the individual (DOPs, filmmakers, PR folks, etc) creditors,”  wrote his friend Marquise Lepage in The Hour.

Hearing Mr. Simard’s story has validated some of the hard feelings I struggled with throughout the three-year process of making of my own film Taxi Casablanca.  That impending sense of risk felt like it was part and parcel of the filmmaking process…

To be continued….

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