York’s Indie film series spotlights mental illness

Filmmaker Pierre Tétrault and York film Professor Laurence Green will be the featured guests Jan. 19 at The Independents, a monthly series of screenings and discussions on independent cinema presented by York University’s Film Department.

Tétrault will screen and discuss his 2005 documentary, This Beggar’s Description, while Laurence Green will present his 2004 documentary, Alter Egos.

This Beggar’s Description, set to the music of Leonard Cohen, is a documentary about the life of Tétrault’s brother, Phillip. The film displays his periods of incredible darkness brought on by schizophrenia and its far-reaching effect on his family and friends.

Left: Poet and musician Phillip Tétrault from This Beggar’s Description

Offering insight into Montreal street life, Tétrault’s film also highlights Phillip’s poetry and his artistic kinship with Canadian poet and songwriter Cohen.

“The result is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of an artist – and of the people who never lost touch with him,” wrote the Montreal World Film Festival in their program.

This Beggar’s Description is Tétrault’s debut screen production. Before turning to film, he made his mark in theatre as an actor, director, artistic director and playwright. He developed theatre for young audiences at Carousel Players in St. Catharines and subsequently served for several years as artistic director of Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre (YPT). Mella Mella, which he directed for YPT in 2000, was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award. Other notable directing credits include the plays The Prince and the Pauper and Ghost Train. Tétrault’s co-writing credits include Crack Diary, Peacocks and Bandaids, The Nightingale and Gandhi High.

Right: Phillip on the streets of Montreal

Green’s Alter Egos is a poignant study of artists, addiction and creativity. It tells the story of Ryan Larkin and Chris Landreth, the “alter egos” of the title. Larkin is living every artist’s worst nightmare: losing his ability to create and to provide for himself. He panhandles on the street to make ends meet. Yet, more than 30 years ago, he was among the world’s most celebrated animators and an Oscar nominee. Landreth, a rising star in animation, is on the opposite trajectory in his career, and beginning to experience the kind of adulation Larkin saw decades earlier. Green explores the lives of the two filmmakers and the reasons for their divergent paths. (See the Feb. 23 issue of YFile for more on the film Alter Egos.)

Left: Rising star Ryan Larkin as a young man

EYE magazine’s Jason Anderson wrote: “Alter Egos…makes for the most unsettling and moving few minutes I’ve seen in any film this year,” and Matthew Hays of the Montreal Mirror included the production in his list of the top 10 films of 2004.

Green, who joined York’s Film Department in 1997, is an award-winning filmmaker with professional credits in all aspects of production. His awards include a National Film Board John Spotton Award at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival and a Silver Hugo at the 1996 Chicago International Film Festival. He has written and directed a series of episodes for the Canadian immigration documentary anthology Scattering of Seeds for History Television, as well as several episodes for the series “Opening Soon” on the LIFE Network. Among his recent productions is the wryly funny, critically-acclaimed documentary Thin Ice, adapted from the memoir Thin Ice: Saved by the American Dream by Canadian expatriate, satirist and New Yorker magazine illustrator Bruce McCall.

Right: Larkin as he is today

York University Film professor Seth Feldman will host the screening and moderate the discussion following. He is an author and broadcaster of more than 20 radio documentary series and has done extensive arts commentary for the CBC.

The presentation will take place on Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7pm in the Nat Taylor Cinema, N102 Ross Building, located on York’s Keele campus. Admission to the event is free. For more information, call ext. 55149.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.