Much of the action at the East End Library Branch's block party to celebrate Canada 150 was, naturally, outdoors, but there was something interesting happening inside too: Eight short films about Guelph by eight local filmmakers. Covering a wide variety of topics, the shorts each show a side of Guelph - known and unknown - that highlighted the reasons why the Royal City is the place that it is.
Through a federal grant to the library to create local stories, the Guelph Public Library approached local photographer and filmmaker Andrew Goodwin about making a series of films. "I have a few videos floating online, and I've done some work for the library as well," said Goodwin. He obviously couldn't create eight films on his own, so he made a counter-offer. "I made the suggestion of doing a small film festival and I had in my mind a bunch of people in town that do this sort of thing."
Goodwin did not choose the topics, but he did know what filmmakers to pair with what story while Goodwin, being the head of the project, got to choose his dream project out of the eight. "Part of the grant from the government required covering certain topics, so something about veterans, something about Indigenous peoples, French-speaking Canadians and other cultural parts of the community," he explained. "So there was an attempt to get a lot of different community representatives involved."
The series started off with Adwoa Badoe on Story-Telling by Elia Morrison. The Guelph-based, Ghana-bord author and educator talks about the nature and need in humanity to not just create stories, but to share them. It seemed like a fitting way to begin the series, and to set up these films as not just promotional pieces, but as stories being preserved for posterity.
You might be excused for assuming promotion was the goal of the next story, Sleeman Brewery - A Story Told, featuring an interview with John Sleeman by Phil Maurion. Sleeman explains the family history with aid of archival photos and film clips, how the Sleeman's came to Guelph, set up the brewery and enjoyed success until the government shut them down for not paying taxes on deals with American bootleggers. It would be half-a-century before the Sleeman comeback, and it was John Sleeman's aunt safeguarding the family recipe book and a single bottle of preserved beer that made it happen. It's a particular poignant story about the virtues of patience and memory, as well as a classic Guelph story.
It's hard to tell at times if Dave Horst's Clean and Green is a celebration for Guelph's environmental reputation, or a campaign commercial for Mayor Cam Guthrie, but joking aside, it's fitting to have the mayor talk about the accomplishments made by the city working collectively, and the message of the film was that the whole of Guelph cares greatly about the environment and leading in environmental stewardship and sustainability. Plus, Horst got some impressive access to the mayor outside of official functions, which was interesting to see.
In Jim Estill Walks the Talk, Sandy Clipsham tries to find a different way to tell a story that's been told many times already in Guelph, and all over the world, how Jim Estill put his money where his moth is to help Syrian refugees. Clipsham focused not on the goal, but how Estill's thought process and background fed his decision to help bring refugees to Canada, an act he says he didn't think was "a big deal." Clipsham follows Estill on one of his daily walks, which gives the film the right feeling of introspection to tackle the personal reasons for Estill's benevolence away from media lights and accolades.
The deeply personal Pearl highlights 97-year-old Pearl who grew up in Galt, worked at a silk mill making a whopping $24 per week, which allowed her to buy a motorcycle, and introduced her to her future husband. The rest, as they say, is history, but while Pearl never ran for office, or fought in a war, or gave millions of dollars to charity, it was a very personal reminder of how we touch people in our (sometimes) long lifetimes. Sadly, Pearl passed away at the end of March after filming her segments for the film.
Speaking of long lives, Goodwin tried to cram as much of Bill Winegard's life as he could into A Big, Curious Heart. The former President of the University of Guelph and MP talks about his war experiences ("I don't know many heroes, except some dead ones") and how he lived his dream job ("I would love being a professor, it everything that I wanted"), and how even now in his 92nd year, he's still reading to kindergarten students weekly. What comes through is Winegard's humility and his dedication to be of service as long as he can, and he treats it all like it's nothing to note, but he's really an example to us all.
Erin MacIndoe Sproule takes on a fairly low key topic, Guelph's Francophone community, in Reseau Franco de Guelph. It turns out that a lot of people in Guelph are native French speakers, many of them came to Guelph when Imperial Tobacco moved its operations here in the late 50s from Montreal, and while many of them moved home when the plant closed, some of them stayed with other local Francophoners. It highlighted a small community in our own backyard that's uniquely Canadian in an original sense of our cultural identity: bilingualism.
And finally, speaking of uniquely Canadian, Angus McLellan profiled the well-known Guelph author and professor in An Interview with Thomas King. King talks about how as a writer he had hoped to use his craft to make sense of a crazy world, and as he talks, excerpts from King's book The Inconvenient Indian play out in various illustrated forms. The experience was almost Lynchian, as in David Lynch, and that's a high compliment.
"It was not difficult to get people to want to talk about their history and their stories. That was probably the easiest part of the whole thing." Goodwin said. "It was pretty fun, and I definitely learned a few things."
Where can you watch these videos? Well, they will be posted to the Library's website some time in advance of Canada Day. In the meantime, how about a sequel? "Not right now," said Goodwin with a laugh. "I think I'm going to take a break for now because it was a big project. Maybe for Canada's 200th or something I'll do it."
***Full Disclosure: Angus McLellan and Elia Morrison are staff members at Ed Video Media Arts Centre, whose Board of Directors I'm president of.