"Long Walk Home: The Incredible Journey of Sheila Burnford" is a documentary about a writer adventurer who grew up in Scotland, survived the Blitz in London, emigrated to Thunder Bay, and spent the last 20 years of her life either at her cabin on Loon Lake; on a remote reserve or an Arctic community or her writer’s garret in Sussex. The 1963 Disney movie based on her classic novel “The Incredible Journey” made her famous but her real accomplishments as a writer were yet to come.
I am a documentary filmmaker who focuses on history, international development, human rights and environmental subjects. My films are educational and available for viewing at home or in the classroom. I have an extensive background in film and video production, working as a producer, director and sound recordist. Several of the films I have worked on have won awards, have been screened at major film festivals, are used as teaching tools in university classrooms, and some have been broadcast on television in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Most are available online as Knowledge Mobilization tools. I have also produced or participated in the production of a variety of online materials, and I specialize in Knowledge Mobilization. Below is a list of some of the film and media projects where I have played a key role in production. Follow the links to more detailed descriptions of the items I have listed below and look for full length versions of some on the web.
For up-to-date information you can visit my professional film website. Here you will find information about many other film, video and new media projects I have, or am involved in.
"Where the Poppies Grow" (2018)
"Where the Poppies Grow" is a short docu-drama about one soldier during the Great War. Alfred Saxberg was a first generation Finnish Canadian who signed up at the beginning of the war and was fortunate to return home in 1919. When the Great War ended In November 1918, the people of the Lakehead could take pride in the contributions they had made. Over 6,200 people enlisted either as volunteers or conscripts. At home, the community supported the war by raising money to assist soldiers’ wives, children, and other dependents. There were also campaigns to help finance the purchase of military equipment and to send personal items to the soldiers overseas. By the end of the conflict, approximately 300 people from the Lakehead were killed overseas or died of illness due to their war service. Thousands more were wounded in body and mind. Where the Poppies Grow is a docu-drama that looks at the sacrifices made by people from the Lakehead to secure victory in the war.
As part of this project we have also produced a series of vignettes that help explain aspects of the film and a short “making of” video where you can get a behind the scenes look at the production.
"Long Walk Home: The Incredible Journey of Sheila Burnford" (2017)
When we hear of identity theft we usually think about someone gaining access to bank accounts or making purchases on someone else’s credit card, but we seldom find a case of someone successfully living another person’s life. "A.K.A." is a documentary about the little-known story of Ronald Ivan MacDonald, a serial impostor with only a high school education who stole the identities and obtained work as a psychologist at several universities, clinics and hospitals in Canada. MacDonald managed to stay one step ahead of the authorities until February 1966 when he was revealed to be an impostor at Lakehead University. He had stolen the identity of a leading American academic and for three years managed to trick his colleagues at the university and the local hospital, and an entire community, into believing he was a published author with a PhD in Psychology. "A.K.A." uses a combination of archival footage, dramatizations and interviews to explore the world of Ronald Ivan MacDonald, a Canadian response to Ferdinand Demara.
"Guardians of Eternity" (2015)
“Guardians of Eternity” is a documentary film about the arsenic issue at Giant mine in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Drawing on academic research on communicating with future generations, the film documents different local perspectives on the long term impact of arsenic contamination at the Giant Mine site. The film focuses in particular on Yellowknives Dene knowledge of the land around Giant Mine and changes that affected their communities. The film documents local strategies to warn the future the site, through traditional knowledge and story passed down through generations. See a trailer here.
The Lakehead Finns, the working class, 1900-35:
"Engaging the World" (2014)
"Engaging the World" is an interactive non-linear documentary film about international development. The film is produced by ShebaFilms and powered by Korsakow, an application used to make interactive documentaries for the web. Engaging the World is designed to introduce viewers to some of the challenges of international development and to consider solutions to some of the problems encountered in developing world. This interactive, non-linear web doc provides viewers with insights based on conversations with a number of dynamic individuals who work in the field of international development.
“One of the best teaching resources I’ve seen in this area. It’s rare to see something that’s perfect for discussion in truly beautiful images.”
“Finally, a site on international development that puts experts from the South front and centre. This is a wonderful new resource for students of international development. And for the rest of us ‘experts’ too!”
“Engaging the World is a dynamic multimedia platform that explores the challenges of international development. It features a korsakow cinema database – a non-linear interactive storytelling tool – that is organized around critical questions we have all asked. It is a good example of the ways that researchers are incorporating visual methods into our research and diffusion practices.”
"Pulp Friction: People, places, and the global economy (2014)
"Pulp Friction" is a documentary film about single-industry towns and challenges faced by residents of these communities as a result of the shifting nature of the global forest industry. While most studies of globalization focus on industrial cities in densely populated regions like Southern Ontario, this film examines the impact of global forces on remote communities in Canada, Finland and Uruguay. “Pulp Friction” builds upon a series of academic projects, picking up where the publications left off to provide community members in single industry towns, government and non-governmental organizations, and civil society groups across the globe with access to a forum for information and insights into the impact of globalization. The film examines three communities in three different regions of the world, that have been affected by the wave of globalization in order to better understand the fundamental changes that are taking place in the world economy. See the promo here.
"Hard Time" (2013)
“Hard Time” is a one-hour documentary about the personal evolution of a man, from a life of poverty in rural Louisiana, through the state corrections system, to becoming a political activist who has devoted his life to the plight of political prisoners in the United States. When Robert King was sent to the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana for the first time for a crime he did not commit, he learned that the justice system was corrupt, When he was sent to prison a second time for an crime he did not commit, he knew that he had to resist his detention. And resist he did. Robert King and two other prisoners formed the only Black Panther political cell in a U.S penitentiary. They focused on prisoner rights and attempted to protect young men, called “fresh fish” by other inmates, from being sexually abused. Their efforts to organize prisoners to defend themselves raised the ire of prison authorities and the three Black Panthers of Angola prison became known as the Angola 3. King remained Angola for 31 years and spent 29 of them in solitary confinement. His two comrades have been in solitary for 38 years, also for crimes they did not commit. The story of the Angola 3 is well-known in justice circles throughout the United States, but the story of Robert King is not. “Hard Time” is the story of Robert King’s journey through and radicalization in the Louisiana corrections system. See the film here.
"The Big Blue" (2013)
“The Big Blue” is a 65 minute feature length documentary about Canadian writer Charlie Wilkins and his 53 day, 5000 km voyage across the Atlantic Ocean with 15 crewmates aboard Big Blue. The film follows the crew of the first and only ocean rowing catamaran. They left Tarfaya, Morocco in January 2011 and arrived in Port St Charles, Varbados in March. Theirs was an attempt to set a record for an unassisted row across the Atlantic and the rowing schedule was two hours on and two hours off. The rules were simple; bring everything you need because there was no support vessel, no stored water, no sails and no motor.
"A Question of Development" (2012)
This is a channel I created on Vimeo as a tool for teaching about international development. On this channel you will find a series of 52 short videos produced with outtakes from "Citoyens du Monde/Citizens of the World, a film series in French and English about research for development. A Question of Development provides a framework for introducing concepts in international development. Each video has a question attached to it and the videos are answers to the question by development researchers, practitioners and partners. Each video is less than 3 minutes in length because they are meant to serve as introductions to specific development challenges. They are intended mobilize knowledge about development issues and to engage students. I use them in my classes to stimulate discussion around specific topics. These videos have been used in a wide range of courses in the Social Sciences because the themes are relevant to many subject areas. Although the focus is primarily on the Global South, the issues concern us all. Click here to see what A Question of Development is all about.
"Under the Red Star" (2011)
“Under the Red Star,” is a feature length docu-drama, in Finnish and English, about the vibrant culture and politics at the heart of Canada’s largest labour hall. This film was shot on 16mm, it integrates archival footage, photos and fictionalized scenes to bring to life the Hall’s lively and dramatic past. Under the Red Star is produced by Ron Harpelle and directed by Kelly Saxberg. It stars Elena Leeve, and Jussi Nikkilä and 50 other local actors had speaking parts in the film. They were supported by a cast of 220 extras. The film project is supported by funding from the Ontario Arts Council, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Institute of Migration in Turku, Finland.
In the Thunder Bay region, where agricultural land is framed by the jutting fingers of the rocky Canadian Shield and where farms were carved out of the Boreal Forest by turn-of-the-20th-Century pioneers, farming is not an obvious career choice for young people to make. Unlike the established patterns of the Canadian Prairies or the Niagara region, producing food in Northwestern Ontario requires a special kind of farmer. As part of our research The Food Security Research Network interviewed five local producers of basic foods in an effort to better understand the challenges they face.
"In Security" is a documentary film about how barbed wire, a simple 19th century invention used to claim land for agricultural purposes, has evolved into a silent sentinel that acts as a means of control over people and spaces around the world. Since its inception, barbed wire has become a ubiquitous feature of our daily lives, yet we never give it a second thought. It surrounds pastures in the countryside, parking lots, homes and other buildings. While its general purpose is to establish a boundary, barbed wire is also used as a frontline obstacle by the military forces of the world, as a boundary marker between countries, and as an impenetrable wall around prisons and other institutions where absolute control over the movement of human beings is required. Used everywhere for security purposes, it also speaks loudly about the insecurity of our times. See the film here.
"Life is But A Dream..." (2010)
“Life Is But A Dream…” is a collaborative effort by a group of filmmakers belonging to Flash Frame, Thunder Bay's Film and Video Network. The film was made in five days as part of a contest and it is about author Charlie Wilkins who is getting ready to row across the Atlantic Ocean with a group of rowers who will attempt to set a new record of getting From Morocco to Barbados in 30 days. Selected as one of the 12 finalists for International Documentary Challenge at Hot Docs 2010, receiving an Honourable Mention for the top prize and was named Best of Genre for Sport.
"Citoyens du Monde Documentary Series" (2010)
"Citoyens du Monde" is a six-part documentary film series that follows Ronald Harpelle and Bruce Muirhead in their quest to understand Canadian contributions to research for development. Filmed in 15 countries, the series is broken down into six themes.
For more information, see TFO's website: http://www1.tfo.org/education/series/24890/Citoyens-du-monde
Or for versions in English and French, visit "Engaging The World" which is my international development website.
"The Hoito Project" is a community fundraising effort involving a number of musicians from Thunder Bay. The musicians were backed up by Finnish guitar legend Jukka Tolonen and his band, Cool Train. The proceeds from this DVD are used to support renovations to the Finnish Labour Temple at 314 Bay Street in Thunder Bay.
This video is a short cut of a meeting we had in 2006 with community members of Embalam, India where Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has helped to fund a computer based knowledge centre. Myself and Bruce Muirhead (University of Waterloo) are writing a history of the IDRC and were able to meet with scientists and researchers in Delhi and Tamil Nadu to learn about the IDRC in India. This clip is a series of three we put together as part of our early research into our documentary series, "Citoyens du Monde."
This is a 14 part series on eating disorders among young women. The series was co-produced with Dr. Ron Davis of Lakehead University’s Department of Psychology.
Dorothea Mitchell was born in Britain, raised in India and immigrated to Canada in 1904. After settling in Northwestern Ontario she became the first single woman to be granted a homestead in Ontario, and became the first woman in Canada to make independent films. Along the way, she became known as the Lady Lumberjack and later distinguished herself as an author. A Reel Pioneer is a film about Dorothea Mitchell and the Port Arthur Amateur Cinema Society. Together, they made the first feature-length amateur film in Canada and their story, told through the eyes of Dorothea Mitchell, is brought back in the form of a historical documentary. Dorothea Mitchell's story is an inspiration to women everywhere. "A Reel Pioneer" is currently being broadcast in Canada on the BRAVO! channel. See the film here.
"The Fatal Flower" (2004)
"The Fatal Flower Project" is a broad-spectrum effort to preserve and enhance Canada's film history. The project is a co-operative effort by a group of cinema enthusiasts to finish a silent film, produce a video package of the most significant collection of amateur films made in Canada before the advent of sound, republish a book written by the first female independent filmmaker in Canada, and create an interactive educational package that ties everything together. "The Fatal Flower Project" is both historical and pedagogical.
"Banana Split" (2002)
The banana is the cheapest fruit you can buy in Canada at any time of the year and Canadians eat approximately 3 billion bananas a year. In Canadian supermarkets bananas account for over 10% of total sales in the produce section and 1% of total sales. All this despite the fact that the nearest plantation is 5000 kilometres away and the banana is the most perishable fruit on our store shelves. "Banana Split" takes the viewer on a journey that begins with the hustle and bustle of a fruit market in Thunder Bay, Ontario and ends up with an examination of the daily challenges of life in Honduras. In addition to being a popular fruit in Canada, bananas are used as a staple food in more than 100 tropical and sub-tropical countries. See the film here.
"Digital Guide to the West Indian Diaspora in Central America" (2001-present)
This was my first New Media project. In an effort to give something back to the people whose history I began building my career around, I have put together a chronological list of the documents I’ve found over the years. With this website, researchers can find out about obtain copies of documents without having to travel the world. In countries like Costa Rica, students do not even have to venture to San Jose to see out materials for projects on the history of the Atlantic coast region.