________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008


Reading Alistair MacLeod.

William D. MacGillivray (Writer & Director). Terry Greenlaw (Picture Plant Producer). Kent Martin (NFB Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
88 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C9105 185.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Libby McKeever.

**** /4



All of us are better when we're loved. (Alistair MacLeod.)


Reading Alistair MacLeod takes viewers into the life of the Canadian writer and the inspiration behind the storyteller. Filmmaker William D. MacGillivray has interspersed MacLeod's personal annotates with various famous Canadian writers who read from his work. These writers include Margaret Atwood, David Adams Richards, Russell Banks, Wayne Johnston and Colm Toibin. Although they all read from different titles, there is a common thread of reverence for Macleod's lyrical craft and a great fondness for him as person.

     Although MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan, when he was a boy his parents returned to resettle on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. Macleod followed the path of many young islanders when he left the island to work in the mines. He eventually settled with his wife and children in Windsor, ON, where he taught Creative Writing at the university and returned to Cape Breton Island each summer with his wife and children. Macleod would set off early on these summer mornings to hike the headland to his writing shack and would return at lunchtime to spend the remainder of the day with family. Author Lisa Moore commented that MacLeod's writing tells of the contrast between the tenderness and brutality of life in Cape Breton and of the tightknit community who live there. He builds his stories around characters, and, as one islander remarked, there is a common thread of Cape Breton Island people being both compelled to leave and then to return, if only in their minds.

      MacLeod had early success with his short stories in the United States and was published in Best American Short Stories. MacLeod's son Alexander reads from one of the early stories and comments that he feels these are his father's very best work, stories that explore humanity while sometimes cutting deeply to expose the raw story underneath. Author Wayne Johnston states that MacLeod "writes prose as you would poetry," and Margaret Atwood praises the "folkloric quality" of his work and the deceptive simplicity that reads so beautifully. Composer Christopher Donison has created an opera called "The Island" which is based on MacLeod's short story collection of the same name. Throughout the film, viewers see McLeod and Donison confer over the music as performers sing his words.

      Reading Alistair MacLeod is a delightful and inspiring glance into the life of one Canada's foremost storytellers. MacGillivray has used a humorous and gentle lens to allow viewers some insight into the story behind the tales that have touched so many. The film's cover photograph captures MacLeod and his battered briefcase outside a small white building, his writing shack. Perched on top of a grassy headland, the shack overlooks a pebbled beach and out towards Prince Edward Island, one of the beautiful images portrayed in the film. The back cover shows part of the MacLeod clan, some wearing tartan, gathered outside a small church. This is also the closing scene to the film and leaves viewers with the impression of family man who is touched by landscape of the human story.

      Alistair MacLeod has published 14 short stories, collected in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986). His acclaimed novel, No Great Mischief (1999) received several awards and his most recent book, Island (2000) is a collection of his short stories. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2007.

      Reading Alistair MacLeod would be well suited to English, media arts, Canadian literature and Canadian cultural students in the Senior Secondary grades.

Highly Recommended.

Libby McKeever is a library technician who works at the Whistler Public Library and at Whistler Secondary School in Whistler, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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