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2007 Focus On Kevin McMahon

Sponsored by The National Film Board of Canada and Autoshare

The non-fiction films of Kevin McMahon have been fixtures on the Canadian documentary scene since the early nineties. At once cerebral and visceral, poetic and essayistic, they represent expansive and delightfully idiosyncratic explorations of some of the central concerns of Canadian identity: the impact of technology on our lived environment and experience; the vital role of communication in preserving, maintaining and asserting cultural identity; and the respect for, and fear of, the foreboding power of nature, be it the threats and bounty of the natural world, or the fallible and elusive qualities of our own nature as human beings.

Watching his films, it’s easy to detect McMahon’s background in drama and literature (he studied both while earning a degree I the latter at Brock University). It’s found in the lyrical sweep of his overall vision, the sensitivity to mood and rhythm evident in the arcs of his films, the presentation (and even the crediting) of interviewees as a chorus, and the use of juxtaposition to draw forth the dramatic connections and disparities between various themes and ideas.

His experience as an award-winning investigative journalist (he holds a degree in journalism from Carleton University, worked as a reporter at The Standard in St. Catharines for five years and wrote for the CBC Radio programme Ideas) is evident less in his directorial approach or narrative structure – which tend to aspire more to the limitless expressiveness of music – as it is in his relentless search for something resembling truth, and his enthusiastic willingness to peel back layer after layer in pursuit of it.

McMahon’s admiration for alternative documentaries and the work of director Peter Greenaway, earned while studying film at Bristol University in England, no doubt informed his fondness for an elliptical approach to narrative structure and a precise, evocative visual strategy that would often involve meticulous storyboarding, a rare practice in documentary filmmaking. But there is much in McMahon’s work that stands out from the norm, that aspires to be distinct and unique while remaining cognizant of what links and unites it with the wider world, much like the culture he chronicles. The result is the act of reaching toward a certain kind of deeper truth, but one that seldom seems overly serious. There is a dark, often absurd kind of comedy underlying McMahon’s films. After all, when the tragic reality is laid bare, sometimes all one can do is issue a fatalistic chuckle.

McMahon has long expressed a desire to release three of his most prominent films — The Falls (1991), In the Reign of Twilight (1995) and Intelligence (1998) – as a trilogy entitled The Landscapes of Fear, so it is with a fatalistic chuckle of our own that Hot Docs proudly presents these three films along with a fourth, McLuhan’s Wake (2002). We hope you’ll join us for the screenings and discussions of these rich and rewarding documentaries.

Andrew McIntosh

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