Veteran film director Bill MacGillivray says he learned something surprising while making a National Film Board documentary about Danny Williams, the feisty, former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The thing that I learned making this film, Danny Williams is actually quite a nice guy,” MacGillivray says. “He actually does good things. Yes, he gets angry and yes, he fights verbally and yes, he can be a bit vindictive, but you could say the same about just about any of us.”
The 85-minute documentary, which will be screened this Saturday evening at the 5th annual Parrsboro Film Festival, explores Williams’s verbal fight with former Prime Minister Paul Martin over Newfoundland’s share of offshore oil revenues. Williams says members of Martin’s staff referred to him as “the asshole from Newfoundland.” But the Martin government eventually cut him a $2 billion cheque.
However, there was no happy ending after Stephen Harper reneged on his promise to allow Newfoundland to keep 100 per cent of of its oil royalties. The two men got into a F-word-laced exchange during a tense, private meeting and Williams ended up campaigning against Harper during the 2008 federal election.
“Often our so-called best politicians, or at least the ones that are most revered are the ones who have embodied that fighting spirit,” MacGillivray says. “If you look at Joey Smallwood or Brian Peckford or Brian Tobin often their stance is an aggressive stance of a little guy standing up to the omnipresent Canadian government. Newfoundlanders tend to identify with that and they tend to rally round when they see their champion being put upon by the Goliath at the time.”
MacGillivray co-directed DANNY with fellow-Newfoundlander Justin Simms.
“I think it would an entirely different film had it been made by somebody from central Canada or at least somebody from off-island,” he says, adding that much of the film’s character comes from its exploration of Newfoundland culture.
“This could have been almost a journalistic look at, or a biopic of, a person, a famous person, but what we felt we wanted to do was explore the culture that created that person.”
As a result, the film features satiric sketches poking fun at both Newfoundlanders and Danny Williams. It also features interviews with cultural icons such as Andy Jones, Greg Malone and Mark Critch.
MacGillivray says he’s looking forward to introducing the documentary Saturday night at The Hall and discussing it afterwards with the audience at the Parrsboro Film Festival.
“In many ways, it’s a celebration of Danny and we also wanted it to be a celebration of Newfoundland,” MacGillivray says. “We wanted the film to have a kind of a grand feel. We wanted it to be celebratory.”
MacGillivray will introduce his film on Saturday at 7:15 p.m.