Film Poster

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Clarke Mackey

Clarke Mackey Clarke Mackey is a filmmaker, author and educator based in Canada. Several of his films have won awards and critical acclaim. His first feature film, The Only Thing You Know (1971), won two Canadian Film Awards (now called Genies) including the Best Actress award. This film is considered by many critics to be an important film in the early development of independent cinema in this country, along with Don Shebib’s Goin’ Down The Road and Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine. Mackey’s documentary A Right to Live (1977) is called "one of the key moments in the history of committed documentary in Canada" by Peter Steven in his book Brink of Reality: New Canadian Documentary Film and Video (1993).

In the last three decades Mackey has focused his filmmaking and writing on vernacular culture. His book on the topic, Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century, was published in 2010.

Clarke Mackey teaches in the Department of Film and Media at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Early Work

Clarke Mackey was nineteen years old when he produced his first feature film, The Only Thing You Know (1971), The movie tells the story of a teenage girl’s attempts at independence using a documentary shooting style and improvised dialogue. It won two Canadian Film Awards, including the award for Best Actress. It was restored and released on DVD with commentaries and additional material in 2006 by the Pioneers in Independent Canadian Cinema Project (funded by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada).

Clarke Mackey was one of four cinematographers on the 1970 Canadian concert film Festival Express featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Band, that was not released in 2003, 33 years after the original event. In the 1980s, Mackey directed several episodes of the Emmy Award-winning TV series Degrassi Junior High. His second feature, Taking Care, won a Canadian Film and Television Association award as best feature and was nominated for the Best Actress Genie in 1988. Target, a pioneering project in digital interactive drama which Mackey directed, won him a Cindy award (Association of Visual Communicators, Los Angeles) in 1989.

Vernacular Culture

In the early eighties Mackey stopped making films for several years. He worked as a pre-school teacher in Toronto. After this experience, Mackey focused much of his personal work on exploring vernacular culture in many forms. Dance on the Edge, Mackey's third feature, an experimental documentary about a vernacular celebration, premiered at the Figueira da Foz International Film Festival in Portugal in 1996. His innovative documentary website Memory Palace: Vernacular Culture in the Digital Age (1997) was nominated for a WebSage Streamers Award and was featured in Forbes Magazine (1999). Mackey worked without a crew or lights to produce an intimate profile of three very poor communities in Mexico called Disrobing the Emperor: The New Commons in Mexico (2000). Eyes in the Back of Your Head (2003) was made in collaboration with ex-federal inmates in Kingston, Ontario.

Mackey’s 2010 book Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century is a timely and provocative exploration of “vernacular culture”: all those creative, non-instrumental activities that people engage in daily – activities that provide meaning in life: conversations between friends, social gatherings and rituals, play and participatory sports, informal storytelling, musical jam sessions, cooking and gardening, homemade architecture, and street festivals. Mackey maintains that practising and celebrating such activities at the expense of passive, consumer culture have far-reaching benefits.

Select Filmography

Clarke's media CV is available here