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Island Imagemakers
by Dave Stewart

Mark SandifordDave Stewart: How did you get into filmmaking?

Mark Sandiford: I grew up in Montreal a few blocks away from the NFB. My older sister had a lot of friends who worked there making shorts and experimental films and I idolized those people. I turned 14 in 1967 and spent every day of that summer at Expo 67 visiting every pavilion and watching every film. That was a mind-blowing experience and completely hooked me on the idea of being a filmmaker. The following year I convinced my high school to start up a filmmaking club. We bought some Super 8 equipment and started churning out our own short films. Later I studied filmmaking at summer school at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School of Art and Design where the instructor, who was a wonderful painter, basically admitted that he didn't know anything about filmmaking let us just do anything we wanted. We won a bunch of awards for our first few films and never looked back. The final pieces of the puzzle came at McGill where I worked on the McGill Daily which was then, as now, a very progressive, shit-disturbing newspaper. At McGill, I also got a Psychology degree and a taste for social sciences. On graduation, I got a job making educational TV for McGill and after a few years left Montreal for the Arctic, where I spent 16 years making television first as a trainer for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and later as a documentary producer for CBC North TV.

Dave: How would you describe yourself as a filmmaker?

Mark: I like my films to work for a living. I'm not very interested in films that only entertain or inform. I want to rock the boat and change the status quo. One of the things I picked up at Expo 67 was the idea of making watching a film a social event. I really like public screenings where a discussion is generated and people leave feeling energized to make change. I also like using the process of making a film to galvanize a group of people into action. This was an idea that the NFB pushed back in the 60's in their Challenge for Change series. I really like entering into a collaborative relationship with all of the people involved in making a documentary. I find that people really open up when they feel like they have some control over how their story will be told.

Dave: What is it about docs that attract you?

Mark: The best thing about docs is the way that they contain much more than the filmmaker puts into them. Even now, I can look back on films that I made years ago and see things that I never knew were there. Because the camera captures so much nuance in terms of facial expressions and body language, documentaries continue to unfold and grow richer as time goes by.

Dave: Which projects are most representative of your work?

Mark: The films that I am most proud of are First Scientists which I made for Discovery Channel and Qallunaat! Why White People are Funny which I made for the NFB and CTV. Both were designed to change people's perceptions about aboriginal people. First Scientists made the case that a parallel body of science developed in the Americas before contact and that it remains a critical part of our intellectual heritage. Qallunaat! gave Inuit a chance to show what it's like to have your culture studied under a microscope. It won a Gemini award for best reflection of Canada's cultural diversity in 2008. Both films have become staples in University classes around the world where I can only hope they are generating lively discussions.

Dave: Where can we see your work?

Mark: First Scientists is available on DVD through an educational distributor. Qallunaat! Why White People are Funny is in the NFB catalogue and is available in a lot of libraries. We post new episodes of N3XT TV every second Friday at

Dave: What's next for you?

Mark: I like having lots on the go. I'm going to continue to work on N3XT TV and make short research documentaries but I'm also starting to work on another big documentary project more on the scale of First Scientists or Qallunaat! Stay tuned.

Visit Mark online at

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