Doors may open for a director who’s won several film awards, but commissioners’ chequebooks won’t necessarily do the same. What’s more likely to happen to a filmmaker who’s received major industry accolades, says Peter Raymont, founder of Toronto’s White Pine Pictures, is simply that their chances of getting a return call or email from a broadcaster improve. ‘The stardust doesn’t seem to linger that long,’ says Raymont, whose feature doc Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma will soon have its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs. ‘People have very short memories in this business.’
That’s why even though he’s received 35 international awards in roughly as many years, including a 2007 Emmy for best documentary for Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, Raymont isn’t resting on his laurels. ‘You have to keep moving in this business; you have to have a lot of balls in the air. You never know what’s going to click with broadcasters, with funders, with viewers, and if you put all your hopes and dreams in one project and it doesn’t work out, then you’re in trouble.’
The mix of drama and fiction, and series and one-offs in White Pine’s catalog is evidence of Raymont’s flexible thinking. For instance, the company currently has four one-off docs in production (including one about the Alberta tar sands, and another about a social engineering experiment involving Inuit youth in the ’60s), and Raymont would like to get a doc series going as well. Plus, the ball is rolling on at least six one-offs in various stages of development, including one for Bravo! Canada called The Secret Life of Glenn Gould, which unveils the acclaimed pianist’s busy love life. ‘It’s a whole side of Glenn Gould that very, very few people know anything about,’ says Raymont.
Unearthing new stories about household names and using strong protagonists to give an issue a broader context are trademarks of Raymont’s work. Take White Pine’s latest doc, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. The film focuses on Dorfman, an American-Argentinean writer, as he recounts his times working for Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, and also explores Dorfman’s angst towards dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Raymont is drawn to these stories for a reason. As a child of the ’60s, he personifies that era’s ethos and says he feels, like many of his contemporaries, that his role is to make the world a better place. ‘I make films and television productions not just to make money… I think of myself as much as an activist as a film or television producer or director; my films are about social justice issues and often follow people who are involved in human rights issues.’
As he discusses juggling fact and fiction, Raymont is reminded of a conversation he had with his 17-year-old son, who was off to see a movie. ‘I said to him, ‘The film you’re going to see: is it a documentary or a drama?’ And he said ‘I don’t even know – I just heard it’s a good film.” With this openmindedness comes the hunger the elder Raymont says people now have for ‘the deeper, more intimate, more personal side of things that they can get from a documentary that they’re not getting anywhere else.’ Sounds like the type of stories that have been keeping the director so busy to begin with.