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In Conversation with Peter Raymont

Straight off their double Gemini award wins on November 2, Canadian documentary filmmakers Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer sit down with us to discuss their most recent project Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould in a two-part series.

The biographical documentary, one of just 15 films to be shortlisted for the Best Feature Documentary Academy Award, was nominated also for an International Documentary Association Award for Best Music Documentary.

Telefilm Canada: How did you come to this project?

Peter Raymont: I grew up very much with Glenn Gould in my home - metaphorically. It was a musical household; both my parents were pretty good piano players and the children all took lessons. My parents also played Gould’s gramophone records.

When I became a filmmaker, I thought that every film to be made on Glenn Gould had been made. There are so many wonderful films, including of course Francois Girard’s 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould. Then I was approached by Michael Clarkson, writing for the Toronto Star, who was the first to interview Cornelia Foss about her love affair with Gould.

I went to see Cornelia in New York and I realized that there was a whole other world that people knew nothing about. A new film could offer a fresh, insightful perspective on Gould’s private, inner life, without being prurient.

TFC: Glenn Gould has become a popular topic for books, movies, other documentaries…

PR: And I suspect there will be more! Three new books were published just this year.

TFC: In your opinion, what makes him so fascinating?

PR:  Glenn Gould is endlessly fascinating because he was very intelligent and led such a rich life, even though short. I think because he died so young and was such a genius, it makes us wonder who he really was.

And his life was incredibly prolific – he did so much and led such a richly creative life. He kept reinventing himself. It is hard to really pin down who he was.

TFC: What were some of the surprises you discovered about him, his life and career along the way?

PR: Of course, almost nobody knew about his relationship with Foss and her children. Nobody ever thought of him as a father figure and this was a huge surprise. The interviews with Christopher Foss and his sister Eliza are very revealing. This is the first-time they have ever spoken publicly about their relationship with Glenn Gould.

TFC: How did these discoveries change the movie?

PR: What was great was there was all this footage – audio and video recordings. He was a child prodigy and so his playing was recorded from a very young age.

On the other hand, there’s all this footage, but when we layered it with moments of his inner life, his private life, the film really came to life. The result is this whole new way of seeing Glenn Gould and of hearing his music.

The genius of that is co-director and editor, Michèle Hozer. She found the secret of weaving these three threads together intricately and beautifully.

TFC: This is your second time shortlisted for an Oscar. Can you speak to the importance of the recognition from the Academy Awards?

PR: It’s very special. And we’re the only Canadian documentary – I’m very proud of that. It’s a great, great honour especially as the Canadian nominee, not just for Michèle and I, and Glenn Gould, but for all Canadians. Canada pioneered documentary filmmaking – through the NFB and the independents - so it’s really wonderful to be recognized on the world stage.

TFC: How was Telefilm’s support important in making this film?

PR: The financial support in development and through the Canada Media Fund was absolutely crucial. Of course, it starts with the Canadian broadcasters – BRAVO! (CTV) and the Biography Channel (Rogers), Knowledge in BC, TVO, and then PBS, ZDF-ARTE, SBC and others – but unless you have the core in Canada, it would have been impossible to have made this film.

TFC: Are you a bigger Glenn Gould fan now, after having made the movie?

PR: After we finished the film and had the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, I thought I’d take piano lessons again. I went for a few lessons and asked my teacher what level she thought I was at. She said probably Grade 4! That’s the same level I reached when I passed the Grade 4 Royal Conservatory exam at age ten, 50 years ago! So I’m back where I started but with a much deeper appreciation of Glenn Gould’s genius. I hope that after people see the film they will hear his music in a different, more intimate, way. 

The 83rd Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 25. Oscar winners will be announced on Sunday, February 27 live from the Kodak Theatre.