Paris 1919

5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: May 24, 2009
Reviewed for the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
Bordering on peace

If anyone ever doubted that those in power further compound the world’s ills when they collectively try working together for—apparently—common cause, then look no further than Paul Cowan’s recreation of the lead-up and signing of the Treaty of Versailles (June 28, 1919).

With copious amounts of archival footage silently recalling the horrific carnage of the Great War interspersed with re-enactments of the politics of peacemaking, the high-stakes poker game that ultimately failed humanity even as many reluctant pens (with a few holdouts, notably China and the recently fascist Italy) put ink to paper in the ever-so-appropriately metaphoric Hall of Mirrors is deftly described.

Cowan found a first-rate contingent to play the world leaders and beaten-down Germans (notably Yan Brian as Woodrow Wilson and Jürgen Zwingel as Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau) and painstakingly filled in the details of the four-week peace conference that took five months to conclude. A few songs from the era—such as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”—and the poignant strings/Satie-hued piano original score from Robert M. LePage set the tone and reinforced the incredible suffering and destruction in a fully supportive manner. “All by Myself”—most certainly an ode to the highly principled, micromanaging President Wilson said it all.

With egos grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory, the possibility of WW II went from slim to certain. Playing with borders like children in a sandbox—amongst other ill-formed, hopelessly artificial results—gave the world Iraq, the “wisdom” of which continues to repay deadly dividends to this day.

Cowan’s impressive achievement needs to be seen by every current and would-be politician on the planet (with a compulsory comprehension test to follow).

Reflecting on the events and personalities now—90 years later—one is suddenly filled with the intriguing thought: How might things have turned out differently if the all-powerful Supreme Council had had at least one woman in its ranks? JWR


The Real Place
Cam Christiansen
Canada 2009, 5 min 29 sec
Five stars

A man of word and imagination

On the occasion of receiving the Governor General’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement award in 2008, director/animator Cam Christiansen took on the daunting challenge of encapsulating the prolific playwright/librettist, John Murrell’s work in just 329 seconds. Letting the engaging writer narrate his own story adds an extra dimension of truth to Christiansen’s succinct, frequently whimsical images. The notion of writing in the dark, dank recesses of a cave of creativity then bringing the fully formed result to its mouth for the world to see and hear is a wonderful idea: from thoughtful darkness can come spectacular light and inner peace (would that world leaders understand and act in concert with this concept).

Not surprisingly, music plays an important role be it the original piano score by Dewi Wood, moving as one with the dancing images or Laura Whalen’s brief, yet enticing, excerpt from the opera Frobisher.

Murrell closes by reflecting on a “lucky life.” Luckier still will be opera lovers everywhere when the collaboration with composer/conductor Bramwell Tovey brings their new work, The Inventor, to first life with the Calgary Opera in 2011. JWR

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Director/Writer - Paul Cowan
Cinematographer - Paul Cowan
Original Music - Robert M. Lepage
Producers - short film - Bonnie Thompson (I), David Christensen
Original Score - short film - Dewi Wood
Selected cast - Yan Brian, Jürgen Zwingel
Soprano - Laura Whalen
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