Bold Brushstrokes: Canadian Artists on Film

March 10, 2017

Painted Land - The Group of Seven

No question about it: Canadian filmmakers have painted beautiful, vivid portraits of this country. From One Week unfurling its canvas coast-to-coast to Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner bringing underrepresented regions of the country to the big screen, there’s plenty of, well… Canada to watch in Canadian film!

And while we attest our cinema holds some of the most iconic images associated with Canada, our visual artists and painters have of course created bold, evocative works that are known and cherished around the world—makes sense Canadians would make movies about them! So grab a stool and dip into this palette of films about (and by!) Canadian artists.

Emily Carr (1871—1945) / Winds of Heaven (2010)

One of Canada’s foremost Impressionist painters, Carr spent much of her career painting tall trees and humble scenes of British Columbia. Additionally, her work was often inspired by Indigenous culture central to the West Coast. Director Michael Ostroff’s 2010 documentary looks at Carr’s life in a wonderful way, distilling some of her finest pieces into a feature film. (We’re also keen on the NFB’s I Can Make Art … Like Emily Carr, an episode in a mini-series dedicated to Canada’s artists!)

Michael Snow (1929) / Wavelength (1967)

This avant-garde work by Michael Snow, a revolutionary Canadian artist in a number of mediums, is one of the defining pieces of the mode, and it’s something all fans of Canadian film should attempt to see on the big screen. But if you can’t, here it is in its entirety! Gold star if you can finish it. If you find it alienating—well, that’s perhaps the point! The film exhibits what is known as “structural filmmaking,” which makes it inherently a tough sit.


The Group of Seven (1900s) / Painted Land: The Search for the Group of Seven

Another fine documentary from White Pine Pictures (the folks behind Winds of Heaven), Painted Land is an exceptional look at the landscapes painted by Tom Thomson and his Group of Seven affiliates. Using the backdrops of Algonquin Park and the Canadian Shield as inspiration, the Group of Seven’s work stands in our national galleries and is part and parcel with our country’s wild horizons. With vocal performances by Colm Feore, Paul Gross and Eric Peterson, this painterly documentary tracks down the landscapes these masters sought to capture on canvas and brings them to the silver screen.

Edward Burtynsky (1955) / Watermark (2013)

Working with documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky’s unbelievable photography has informed two incredible films: Manufactured Landscapes (2007), and Watermark (2013), the latter winning the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Best Canadian Film Award. Manufactured Landscapes focused on Burtynsky’s work; later, with Watermark, he joined the director’s chair with Baichwal for Watermark, bringing his aerial photographs and acute eye to the fore.

Watermark film still   Maudie film still

Kenojuak Ashevak (1927—2013) / Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak

Nominated in 1964 for an Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject, this quietly beautiful short studies the artistic process behind Ashevak’s Inuk art and how it is transferred onto stones to be later sold. We’ll admit that the title of the short is outdated, certainly, but the late Kenojuak’s work is timeless.

Maud Lewis (1903—1970) / Maudie

Honestly portrayed by Oscar-nominated actress Sally Hawkins, Maudie is a brand new Canadian film which looks at the life of artist Maud Lewis that recently had its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. Known for overcoming a debilitating condition in rheumatoid arthritis in her career as one of Canada’s foremost folk artists, Maud Lewis is an inspirational figure in Canadian art, and Aisling Walsh does a wonderful job bringing her story to the screen.

Grab a brush and stay awhile! Paint us a picture of your favourite Canadian artists by leaving us a tweet @CanFilmDay!

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