Saturday, June 8, 2019

Interview With Robin McKenna Director Of GIFT-A Documentary Of Gifting Across The Globe

I was told of this film by Robyn at Taro PR, she had reached out and asked me if I would like to see the film. Upon doing so there was also an opportunity to speak with the Director of the film Robin Mckenna.
Some information on the film first though, for those that do not know it.

Inspired by Lewis Hyde’s beloved classic The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, GIFT is a richly cinematic film, interweaving character‐driven stories. On North America's Pacific Northwest Coast, a young indigenous man undertakes the elaborate preparations for a potlatch - to make a name for himself by giving everything away. In Rome, Italy, a factory occupied by migrant families are transformed into a living museum, protected by a barricade of art: a model of resistance, and an invaluable gift. In the pirate utopia of Burning Man, a mutant bumblebee art car distributes honey in a post-apocalyptic desert landscape. Meanwhile, in Auckland, New Zealand, artist Lee Mingwei prepares to launch Sonic Blossom - a “transformative gift” of song.

GIFT is a tribute to something that can’t be measured or counted, bought or sold. Exploring the parallels between artists’ work and a gift economy, it’s a reflection on the creative process, the reasons we “labor in service of our gifts”, and a celebration of the imagination.

Here is some information on Robin and her story:
(From Gaudete Films Website)

Robin McKenna is an award-winning director, producer, and writer with over two decades of experience in documentary filmmaking.  She is director, producer, and writer of GIFT, a feature-length documentary inspired by Lewis Hyde’s classic bestseller The Gift.  She recently directed a short film with legendary actress Geneviève Bujold, produced by the NFB for the Governor General’s Awards for the Performing Arts, and is in production on Thanadoula, a short animated documentary fairytale, about a real-life “death doula” who finds her calling through the loss of her beloved older sister.  She is producer and director of Medicine, a feature-length documentary about ayahuasca, medicine, and healing, for release in 2019.

Robin grew up in Montreal, Canada, and began making films with the celebrated Radio-Canada series La Course destination monde, traveling around the world alone with a camera making short, creative documentaries.  Her film The Great War Experience won Yorkton Film Festival’s Founders’ Award in 2007. She has directed award-winning series for networks in the US and Canada, and her cinematography credits include City of Borders (Berlinale, Hot Docs 2009) and The Take with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis (AFI Best Documentary 2004).

She is an alumnus of Hot Docs’ Doc Lab and has been a filmmaker-mentor in indigenous communities with Wapikoni Mobile. She is fluent in French and Spanish and has worked in Latin America, Russia, India, Kenya, Israel, and Palestine. She loves creative collaboration and welcomes new projects.

Below is my interview with Robin McKenna:
This film took you 5 years to make, so unlike a feature film, that has a script to follow, etc --here you have real people with no script. You must have had a great amount of film to sort through at that time.
In relation to that did you ever feel like giving up on the task of making the film, what kept you going?
Making the film was a long and challenging journey! There are 4 stories in the film - each has a relationship with creativity and art, and in its own way, reflects on these questions- why we "labor in service of our creative gifts". The bee-girl in the film, Michelle, who's spending all her weekends building a honeybee art car, to give away honey and mead - says people keep asking her, and she keeps asking herself: why spend so much time and energy, on something so ephemeral? The young Indigenous artist and carver, Marcus, says: "It's scary, this part. Are people going to show up?"
As I was finishing the film, it really became clear to me- how personal all these questions were to me, as a filmmaker! Was I crazy, spending 5 years making this movie? Would people show up, would the film find its way to an audience, after all that? So - yes, I asked myself all these questions - and explored them, through making the film. What kept me going I guess was a spark of inspiration, that came to me through this book by Lewis Hyde, The Gift, that's inspired so many artists and writers over time. And the creative challenge of making something that could capture this double meaning of a "gift": how gift exchange connects us, creates relationship, and also the inner gift, the talents, and work that come to us from a place we don't totally control, & how these gifts want to be shared.

 How did you decide to use the footage that you did and will there be more to look forward to on the DVD release or another film?

 It wasn't easy to pare down the 4 stories, so they complemented each other and spoke to each other. The Rome story, for example, could have been a whole film in itself. We chose the moments we loved the most, that captured that "spirit of the Gift", that felt most essential.

The film is still traveling through the country is the film going to see a wider release?

There's actually a new edition of The Gift appearing this fall (Oct 2019), with an introduction by Margaret Atwood, who's a big fan of the book - and a new foreword by Lewis Hyde, talking about the film. We're working on plans now to release the film more widely, concurrently with the new edition of the book.

Anyone interested in booking a screening at their cinema, or a community screening, can find more info here: for Canada, the US, and international.

 The footage from Rome was most amazing how this community has come together in a difficult time for so many of them, but yet they found a common ground and made such an impact for the surrounding communities.
Any updates on how things are going?

Metropoliz, the occupation in Rome, celebrated their 10th anniversary in March. They're still there- although I believe there has been an official eviction order. Their situation is still precarious - nobody knows how much longer they'll be there.

 How were you able to film the young man being sworn in as Chief?

It was an honor and a privilege, to be invited into Marcus' journey, preparing for the potlatch... saving up for 4 years, to give everything away. I think when I approached Marcus, he liked the idea of the double meaning of the gift: that we would follow the story of the potlatch, but also talk about "the artist's gift" - his work as a carver and artist. His father Wayne Alfred, also an artist and carver, talks about this in the film, the "supernatural gifts" we're given: "Some are great hunters, some are great fishermen - my son was born with those gifts, and he used all of his gifts to get this far."

Are you currently working on anything right now, or have anything in the near future?
Image From Thanadoula
(Copyright--Gaudete Films)

I'm making Thanadoula, a short animated documentary fairytale, with the NFB: about the crow as the messenger between the worlds of the living and the dying. It's the true story of a “death doula” brought to her calling through the loss of her beloved older sister, and the threads connecting them... exploring our relationship to death and dying, and the process of letting go. Working with a very gifted artist-animator named Elise Simard- should be a dreamy and beautiful short film, coming out later this year.

I would like to thank Robin for taking the time to answer my questions.

Anthony Nadeau

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