hat is it about Tom Thomson’s life, art and death that rivets us, draws thousands to his cairn at Canoe Lake each summer and propels his little sketches to the stratosphere of the Canadian art market? West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson unravels many of the mysteries of this brilliant, beloved artist.
Filmed in Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay, Seattle, Toronto and Leith, featuring interviews with Canada’s foremost curators and collectors, newly discovered audio recordings of those who knew him, the authentication of Thomson’s first work in oil and paintings from private collections.
“New revelations about Thomson’s life, art and death.” – The Globe and Mail. Full story
“Fresh, with journalistic coups” – The Winnipeg Free Press Full story
“A detailed and often fascinating portrait of one of our most beloved artists…West Wind is a must-see for fans of art and fans of Canada.” - Robert Moyes – Monday Magazine, Victoria, BC. Full story
Producer and Director’s Statement: Peter Raymont
I’ve wanted to make this film since I was a teenager and first discovered the beauty and wonder of Algonquin Park. My parents were from the UK and had never been camping but they could sense my desire to be outdoors and sent me off to camp, a rite of passage for so many Canadian boys and girls.
I went to the YMCA camp on Golden Lake, near Ottawa. Camp On Da Da Waks, an Algonquin phrase meaning ‘Men of the Woods’, is situated on the eastern edge of Algonquin Park. A highlight of the summer was the canoe trip. We’d go for “over-nighters” when young, but by age 14 we’d be off for 2 to 3 weeks into the heart of Algonquin Park. It was wonderful. We’d paddle the lakes and rivers and pitch our tents in the same spots where Tom Thomson had been 45 years before. I was fascinated with Tom Thomson, read everything about him and travelled to galleries in Ottawa, Toronto and Kleinberg to marvel at his colourful sketches.
Like everyone else, I was fascinated by the mystery of his death, but even more by the mysteries of his brief artistic life. My late wife Lindalee Tracey shared my fascination with Tom Thomson, each Christmas buying me the latest book about him.
This was the documentary film my mother always hoped I’d make. And the one my business partners hoped I wouldn’t!
Finding support for art and culture films in the Canadian TV and film system is a challenge. Fortunately, BRAVO, TVO, The Knowledge Network, SCN, the Canadian Media Fund, the Rogers Documentary and Cable Network Funds all stepped up with support. With Tax Credits we were well on our way, yet we still needed additional funds. Public-spirited individuals generously donated through foundations and corporations.
West Wind” is co-directed and edited by the immensely talented filmmaker, Michele Hozer. We previously co-directed “Genius Within; The Inner Life of Glenn Gould”, which premiered at TIFF and was short-listed for the Oscar for Best Documentary. Michele also edited our Emmy-winner “Shake Hands with the Devil” and many other films.
”West Wind” is co-produced and researched by the talented Toronto artist and writer, Nancy Lang.
We are indebted to those who shared their expertise- curators and authors, Katarina Atanssova, Ian Dejardin, Ross King, Charlie Hill, Angie Littlefield, Roy MacGregor, Joan Murray, Dennis Reid and David Silcox. Collectors David Thomson, Ash Prakash, Beverley and Fred Schaeffer, Rod Green and so many others provided their art and their insights.
On location in Leith, Seattle, Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay and Toronto we were welcomed and guided by so many who knew well the local trails of Tom Thomson.
The Ottawa premiere of “West Wind” at the National Gallery of Canada in November 2011 brought this story full circle. As a young boy, I first saw Thomson’s sketches at the National Gallery’s extraordinary collection on display in the Lorne Building on Elgin Street. That evening my 94 year old mother was in the audience, so I could thank her for sending me to Camp On Da Da Waks 50 years before and sparking my life-long love affair with Algonquin Park and its greatest interpreter, Tom Thomson
Director’s Statement: Michele Hozer
When Peter Raymont approached me about collaborating on this film, my first reaction was frankly concern rather than excitement.
Yes, Tom Thomson was a great Canadian, but he left behind precious little material to weave together into a story. Unlike Glenn Gould, there was no music to fall back on or hundreds of photos and interviews to captivate an audience. Unlike Emily Carr, Thomson was not a writer, so there was no rich diary full of drama and humor to help bring his story to life. Instead, here was an artist who’s active work life lasted less than five years, with maybe a half a dozen known photos of him, and just a few rather brief, and cursory letters.
And yet Canadians are fascinated by Thomson. Yes, the supposed murder mystery that tragically ended his life can account for some of this interest. But the mystery of his death is not enough to sustain the power and presence of Thomson for almost 100 years.
For those who know and love art, Thomson’s work shines above the rest. His well-know canvases are synonymous to Canada as maple syrup and the flag itself. But there were also the little, humble sketches that testify to his true genius. Can these inanimate objects be the core and heart of our film?
As we started working these boards into the film, something interesting happened.
It seemed his personality started emerging through the different layers of paint and colour. You can see intentions, obsessions, likes, and dislikes, observing the particular movement of a line, shadow, or brush stroke. Further animated by the wonderful insights of our characters, all of a sudden these boards started taking shape and really become the backbone of our film.
Another interesting attribute to this story is a common thread we can find in some Canadian icons I have had the privilege of making films about. Like General Dallaire, James Orbinski and Glenn Gould, these great Canadians have a way of reflecting core values at the heart of who we are or, more importantly, who we aspire to be.
Tom Thomson like the others is unpretentious, focused, and follows his heart when it was not necessarily the most popular thing to do. And it is by choosing this unpopular and unknown path that he was able to make the greatest contribution. As Charlie Hill so rightly said in the film, what would we be left with if Tom Thomson had gone to war? It’s by focusing on the simple and less obvious things and extracting meaning which makes Tom Thomson’s message so universal and so valid even today – almost a century later.