The National Film Board of Canada documentary Mighty Jerome shines a light on little-remembered Canadian record-breaking track and field star Harry Jerome. Ahead of its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival, director Charles Officer talked to realscreen about why the film was important to make.
The black and white doc uses archival footage of Jerome’s record-setting wins, as well as interviews with family, friends, teammates and coaches to create a cinematic archive of his story. ‘It’s about Harry, it’s for Harry and it’s for his legacy,’ says Officer, emphasizing that it was important to remember a Canadian sports hero. ‘In America they’ll make four films about [Steve] Prefontaine but we don’t even acknowledge someone who’s done a lot more.’
Jerome set the world record of 10 seconds in the 100 metres as a 19 year-old in 1959, and from there went on to set three more world records, even coming back after a devastating muscle injury. In his track career, he competed for Canada in the 1960, 1964, and 1968 Olympics, winning the 100-metre bronze in 1964. He also won gold in the 1966 Commonwealth games and the 1967 PanAm Games.
Mighty Jerome touches on both Jerome’s successes as well as the perseverance of the athlete as he endured injury, a backlash regarding his bi-racial marriage and trouncings by the media. His story spans Saskatchewan, where he was born, to the University of Oregon where he competed, to Vancouver where he died suddenly at the age of 42.
For Officer, whose filmography includes fiction film Nurse.Fighter.Boy, Mighty Jerome was his first attempt at documentary, and narrative touches pepper the doc. He uses two different actors portraying Jerome at different ages, at 12 years-old and as a young man, as visual support.
‘When I wrote out the treatment for it, I wrote it like a narrative script,’ says Officer. ‘I wasn’t trying to find a film in the editing process. That’s where the narrative thing helped me; we would’ve never gotten it cut in the three months that we were physically in the editing room.’
Jerome’s mother and sisters will be at the VIFF screenings October 8 and 10 (although Officer won’t be attending due to a conflict with his performing in a Toronto production of A Raisin In the Sun). ‘Vancouver is the right place for this to premiere, I really believe that,’ says Officer.