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Other films directed by Magnus Isacsson

Les Super-Mémés / 2010
Waiting for Martin / 2004
Hellbent for Justice / 2004
Views from the Summit / 2002
The Choir Boys / 1999
Union Trouble - A Cautionary Tale / 1999
The Big Upheaval / 1996
The Emperor's New Clothes / 1995
Out of the Ashes / 1991
Toivo - Child of Hope / 1990

Magnus Isacsson


Telling dramatic stories which bring crucial social and political issues to the attention of the public - that is Magnus Isacsson's objective as a documentary filmmaker. In the last fifteen years he has specialized in feature length "process films", following conflictual situations over long periods of time. Power (Cineflix 1996), told the five-year story of how the Cree indians defeated Hydro-Québec's Great Whale megaproject. The film received the award for best documentary at the Paris International Environmental Film Festival in 1997 and the Grand Prize of the Lausanne festival in 1999.  The Choir Boys (Érézi 1999) about Montreal's choir of homeless men, was nominated for several major Canadian awards and received the Golden Conch at the Mumbai International festival in 2000. The feature length View from the Summit,  (Érézi 2002) is a multi-faceted view of the politics of protest, which the Globe and Mail called "remarkable...riveting".  Isacsson also co-directed Pressure Point (Multi-Monde 1999), a film on the same theme that received the Quebec Film Critics award for Best Documentary in 2000. Maxime, McDuff and McDo  (Virage), his second film on attempts to unionize McDonald's restaurants, was nominated for three Gémeaux awards.  Isacsson’s most recent films are ‘The Battle of Rabaska’ ( with Martin Duckworth, ONF 2008) and Art in Action (Amazone Films 2009) which received the Prix Gémeaux for best portrait or biography in 2011.

Isacsson received the 2004 Prix Lumières from the Quebec directors’ association. ( ARRQ.)

After studying political science at the Universities of Stockholm and Montreal, Isacsson started his career as a radio producer for Swedish Broadcasting and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from 1972 to 1980. From 1980 to 1986 he directed numerous current affairs reports and investigative stories for the English and French television networks of the CBC, for programs such as Le Point, Contrechamp and The Fifth Estate.

Isacsson has taught audiovisual production at l’INIS, the Quebec film school, and at several universities, including Whitman College in Washington State, the University of Montreal and Concordia U. In the mid-eighties he taught video production in Zimbabwe and South Africa for Montreal-based Vidéo Tiers Monde (Third World Video). He directed an instructional tape on video production, which received the award for best audiovisual production from the Association for Audiovisual Teaching Techniques in 1991. He is a member and former co-chair of the Documentary Association of Canada (DOC), a member of the Association des Réalisateurs et Réalisatrices du Québec (ARRQ), and of SARTEC. He is a former vice-president of the Observatoire du documentaire.

Magnus Isacsson was born in Sweden in 1948. He immigrated to Canada in 1970 and became a Canadian citizen in 1978. He is fluent in Swedish, English and French and understands Spanish. He lives with documentary filmmaker Jocelyne Clarke and has two daughters, Anna and Béthièle.

Artist talk with Magnus Isacsson


FOR MAGNUS ISACSSON, documentary work is a way of life, and has been since his photos were first published when he was 12 in his native Sweden. He started working in radio after graduating from Université de Montréal in the early ’70s and went on to become a television producer. Transitioning from CBC-TV and Radio-Canada in 1986, Isacsson became a prolific independent filmmaker, specializing in works related to social justice, the environment and human rights. Among his best-known films are Power (1986), about the Cree Indians’ successful fight against the Great Whale hydro project (1986); The Choir Boys (1999), about a Montreal choir made up of homeless men; and Art in Action (2009), which just received a Gémeaux award. Isacsson received the Quebec association of directors’ (ARRQ) Prix Lumière in 2004.

Isacsson and his partner, Jocelyne Clarke, are intensely involved in Montreal’s documen­tary community as filmmakers, writers, activists and teachers. They live with their daughter Béthièle in the city’s Plateau district, well known as a hotbed of creative ferment. Their apart­ment—delightfully cluttered with books, art, DVDs and music (there’s a well-used piano in the living room)—is generally buzzing with community and artistic activity. The duo has a spare room constantly occupied by filmmakers and others, including Isacsson’s grown-up daughter Anna, from his first marriage, who now lives in Toronto.

Marc Glassman from POV interviewed Isacsson at his apartment, occasionally aided by filmmaker Martin Duckworth and Clarke.

MG: You have made films on a variety of issues and people, varying from the Cree to arts-inspired activists in Montreal. The gen­eral theme that runs through all the films is people standing up for their rights or the rights of the community. Is that a fair assessment?

MI: I have always looked for dramatic stories, which bring up important social and political issues. Of course, finding strong characters is crucial. I’m really attracted to the unpredict­able nature of conflict stories and I’m in there for the duration, looking to understand all the complexities. Not that all the nuances can be brought to the screen, but in order for the film to be credible and revealing it has to enter into the real challenges and contradictions. Some of my early films were very editorial, but in the more recent ones it’s never just black and white.

MG: Why this interest in people who take action in social movements?

MI: There is so much inequality in soci­ ety. Faced with big corporations and gov­ernments, it’s often necessary for working people, communities and minorities to fight for their rights. Our democracy is imperfect and fragile and only takes its full meaning if people are actively involved in making sure that there is accountability and transparency on the part of governments.

MG: You use a verité style in most of your films. Do you try to stay invisible, or do you feel an urge to intervene?

MI: Most of the work I do now is with Martin Duckworth. We build relationships with peo­ple and after a while they tend to not pay too much attention to us. But I don’t believe for one second in that theory about the fly on the wall and the invisible camera. The cam­era definitely plays a role in bringing things out. Sometimes I provoke or organize events instead of just waiting for things to happen.

MG: So you don’t mind being a provocateur?

MI: I don’t feel many restrictions on inter­vening, as long as it’s not detrimental to the people involved. If two people have something to say to each other and it hasn’t come out in front of the camera, I don’t mind saying to them, ‘Why don’t you have a coffee together and discuss it?’ or, ‘It would be interesting if you went to that meeting and let them know what you think.’ The question to me is not whether the camera has an impact or not. It’s whether the impact is useful and instrumen­tal to the characters and to the filmmakers.

MG: You lived in Sweden until you were just over 20 and you came from a family of artists. Has that inspired you?

MI: Definitely. My father founded an art school just around the time I was born and ran it for almost 50 years. Many of Sweden’s leading artists were active there, including my uncle Torsten, who became famous as a graphic artist and sculptor. So right from the beginning I was exposed to the arts. My mother was a teacher of kids with learning disabilities. Her intellectual curiosity was lim­itless in terms of theatre, literature and the arts. That also was an important influence.


To read the rest of the interview, click here.


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