Canadian Must-Sees: Cinema Verité Defines a Real Moment

Late, and undeniably great, documentary director Peter Wintonick not only chronicled the rise of a new cinematic day in non-fiction film, he traced its roots all the way back to the New World and the camera work of Michel Brault



Directed by: Peter Wintonick

Running time: 102 minutes


A documentary about the pivotal shift in documentary film, Cinema Verité follows the evolution of static, institutional non-fiction film into a flowing — and often shaky — vehicle of artistic expression.

Montreal-based filmmaker Peter Wintonick (Manufacturing Consent) opens this slick yet sedate take on film history with a shot of Terrence Macartney-Filgate — regarded as the pioneer of the Candid Eye series — sitting on a Toronto streetcar with a digital camera, filming Wintonick’s crew as they are filming him. It’s a wonderfully reflective image that captures the essence of the self-conscious movement and sets up the history lesson that follows as Wintonick examines Canada’s role in a filmmaking revolution.

Along the way, we get samples of the movies that gave rise to the movement known as Cinema Verité, Cinema Direct, Kino Pravda, Free Cinema and for those who aren’t afraid of compoud words, auteur-driven non-fiction. From Michel Brault talking about Pour la suite du monde to Jean Rouch’s recollections of the era, we get a full tour of the era and see how it paved the way for the current strip mall of non-scripted cinema that includes everything from Caitlyn Jenner’s transgender odyssey to Toddlers and Tiaras.

Featuring clips of Lonely Boy, Les Raquetteurs, Canary Island Bananas, La Lutte, The Days Before Christmas and Chronique d’un été — Rouch’s seminal piece of non-fiction shot by Brault — the viewer gets a full view of the films and the people that pulled the camera off the tripod and put it back in human hands. Hearing the stories first-hand is what makes this movie as compelling as it is educational because it humanizes the careful accounting of events, and reaffirms what made the verité movement so unique as it opened up the frame, and allowed seemingly random, unplanned and spontaneous actions to unfold before the lens.

For instance, the above image from Chronique d’un été features one of the subjects walking away from the camera and has been assigned great historic significance by film scholars as it suggests the existential condition. Yet, when you hear Brault talk about how he shot that sequence, it starts to sound like a happy accident, which — in the big picture, and the small — is the essence of what we now recognize as great documentary.

– Katherine Monk





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