Charles Officer was just going into production of his feature film debut, Nurse. Fighter. Boy when Selwyn Jacob from the NFB’s Pacific and Yukon Centre approached him about a documentary on Harry Jerome.
Toronto-based Officer, who had tried his hand at short films, music videos and a television pilot before his dramatic feature film, was up for the challenge to tell the story of the African-Canadian track and field star. During Jerome’s lifetime of 42 years, he trained under Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon, managed to set seven world records in sprinting even after enduring a potentially career-ending injury, and had a successful career in social activism. ‘I feel like I’m working on [a project about] the Muhammad Ali of track and field for Canada,’ says Officer.
Even though track meets, sports centers and an awards event honoring African-Canadian achievement are named after him, many Canadians do not know the name or the fascinating story of Jerome. Officer, who begins filming on April 25, can only hope that his documentary will celebrate the remarkable man and bring him into Canadian consciousness.
The film will be based on Fil Fraser’s book Running Uphill, and Officer wants his doc to be creative and innovative. Instead of individual talking-head interviews, the director is planning to bring in numerous key characters from Jerome’s life – among them, his wife, daughter, best friend, first coach, and friend Bruce Kidd – and encourage them to converse in a mobile set created for the doc. According to Officer, ‘It’s like an installation art set all about Harry Jerome and that’s where the interviews are going to take place,’ he says. ‘It’s almost a museum but it also has a very artistic design to it, such as awards of his on the wall, photographs, his track suit and his shoes hanging from the ceiling.’
Besides the mobile set, the plans for the doc also include using archival footage and dramatizations, which Officer plans to execute using young athletes from Vancouver that he’s been tracking for the last couple of years as actors.
All of the outside-the-box filmmaking ideas have been embraced by the NFB, which Officer has nothing but praise for. Harry Jerome, the National Film Board of Canada production, has Tracey Friesen on board as the executive producer and Selwyn Jacobs as producer.