Short delves into Tom Thomson affairs
Film North comes to Huntsville Sept. 20 to 22
Artist: Unknown explores the man behind the famous paintings.
HUNTSVILLE – Director Craig Goodwill says he didn’t want to see a canoe or a loon anywhere near his short film about iconic painter Tom Thomson.
Goodwill said his eight-minute film Artist: Unknown, set to be screened during the Huntsville-based international film festival Film North, pushes aside the idea of Thomson as an unblemished Canadian hero and asks poignant questions about him as a man.
“I was fascinated by the Canadian icon identity and how, in Canada, we have a tendency to round the edges of some of our very prolific artists,” he said.
What Goodwill said he learned in elementary school about Thomson left him with a picture of an almost boring guy, who made paintings in the woods with other guys.
“You didn’t really understand the context of the time, the place, him, his vivacious appetite toward women and alcohol, his anti-peace stance during the First World War,” said Goodwill. “I started realizing (through later research) I never really knew the truth about the guy.”
But when he pulled back the curtain Goodwill said he found conflict and vice also played a part in Thomson’s life.
Research led to the idea for a short film set in 1918, after Thomson’s drowning. Thomson’s friends A.Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley and Arthur Lismer, soon to be part of the Group of Seven, come back from the First World War and hold a wake for him.
“Their relationships weren’t always so idyllic and we wanted to delve into that a little bit,” said Goodwill.
The film does not seem to shy away from asking critical questions of Thomson as a person. It is less about the legend than it is about the man, said Goodwill.
For example, Claire Logan is introduced in the film as Thomson’s former lover. Passionate love affairs were an aspect for the artist that Goodwill said he was surprised to learn about through research.
“I was also fascinated by the sex of it all – he was sleeping with a lot of the women when their husbands were away at war,” said Goodwill. “Why has this story never been told? Now, in a Grade 6 classroom it’s obviously not the thing you focus on, but as adults we aren’t very aware of these multifaceted characters.”
But putting together a short film presented challenges. Goodwill said he and his team were limited by length, budget and the stereotypes that surround their main character.
“I didn’t want to see a loon or a canoe anywhere,” he said. “I was more interested in the relationships and the dialogue.”
The film depicts Thomson in a new way through the dialogue of the other characters in the film.
And the film is also visually stunning. Shot at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto where the Group of Seven used to hang out, Artist: Unknown has won the Canadian Society of Cinematographers Award for dramatic short cinematography.
Goodwill said he is looking forward to premiering the film in Tom Thomson country during the film festival.
“I like going to the heart of the beast, and Huntsville is certainly the place we wanted to premier this and show it,” he said. “Huntsville gives us the opportunity … to get to the heart of the audience.”
He said he intends to be in the crowd during the screening and wants to witness the reaction of the viewers. He will then hold a question and answer period where he hopes to get some passionate responses about the film.
“I’m not going to be wearing a flack jacket or anything, I’m not overly concerned, but I’m interested in the passion,” he said with a chuckle. “When you can elicit a response, that’s a beautiful thing. I hope it doesn’t meagerly pass by and that people are disinterested by it. I’m actually hoping it spurs conversation.”
The short will be the basis for a feature length film in future and Goodwill said Huntsville seems like an excellent place to gather feedback.
“There’s a real renaissance of the Group of Seven and particularly Tom Thomson,” he said. “We’re really excited about the presentation of an idea to people that has never really been discussed, and Huntsville seemed like that perfect mixture of interest and character.”
Artist: Unknown screens at the Algonquin Theatre as part of Film North on Sept. 22, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available from the theatre box office at 37 Main St. E., Huntsville, at www.algonquintheatre.ca or by calling 705-789-4975.