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This article was published 22/3/2012 (2282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
IN his teens, filmmaker Peter Raymont used to canoe for weeks in the summer in Algonquin Park, camping on the very spots where venerated Canadian artist Tom Thomson used to paint his indelible nature landscapes.
From his office at White Pine Pictures in Toronto, Raymont says West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson is a byproduct of those adventures, "the film I wanted to make all my life.'
"And I wanted to make it while mother is still alive," he says. "She's 95 and she really introduced me to Tom Thomson. She saw the film last fall in Ottawa when we had a special screening at the National Gallery and I kind of dedicated the whole thing to her. So that meant a lot to me.
"It's wonderful to make a film about your childhood hero and a mystery man."
Raymont acknowledges this film shares a connection with past documentary features Shake Hands with the Devil, a gripping portrait of Canadian General Romeo Dallaire and Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould as celebrations of Canadians who have left a mark on the world.
"I think the best way to learn about history, like the genocide in Rwanda, is through a great character and Dallaire is ours, very articulate, very emotional," he says. "Gould is of course such an extraordinary creative artist and no one had made the kind of big documentary about him. There's 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould, but it's not really a documentary and it's not really a biography.
"And surprisingly, no one had done a film about Tom Thomson. There was an NFB short done in the '40s, about 15 minutes long, also called West Wind, and there have been a couple of CBC investigations into his death, but nothing like this. And it's surprising because he is so well known in Canada and his paintings are so loved and the story is such a mystery, I was surprised nothing had been done."
One of the reasons for that may be that, unlike Dallaire, Thomson is not around to bear witness to his life. Unlike Gould, there are no extensive video and audio records of his life. But despite the fact Thomson died in 1917, Raymont and researcher Nancy Lang were able to uncover new material about the artist, including decades-old audiotape of interviews with people who knew him, and even better, the discovery of a painting that is likely Thomson's first landscape canvas.
They also lucked out in that Winnipeg Jets co-owner David Thomson was willing to go on camera to talk about the artist he clearly venerates.
"He is traditionally, notoriously media-shy and reclusive and doesn't like doing interviews, but he did do that great interview for us," Raymont says.
"He saw the rough cut when we did kind of a fact-check screening for him and he liked it very much and he said, 'I've got some other Tom Thomson paintings you might like to include.'
"So we got invited to the vault at Woodbridge, which is his holding company, and there were a whole bunch more Tom Thomson paintings kind of squirreled away. So we included some of those films at the last minute.
"He's so passionate about Tom Thomson."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.