Shannon Walsh passion for visual storytelling earns her the Governor General’s Award

Shannon Walsh

Since she was a teenager, Canadian filmmaker Shannon Walsh was always fascinated with telling stories, especially in a visual manner. 

It first began with still photography, but when she studied at McGill and Concordia universities, she transcended that passion for storytelling to film. For over a decade, Ms. Walsh has directed a number of short and feature-length documentaries that tackle several social justice-related issues such as the connection between the global oil crisis and Canada’s tar sands (H2Oil), the life of five different people who inhabit a neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa (Jeppe on a Friday), and how the digital age has created a culture of invisible workers around the world (The Gig is Up).

Ms. Walsh’s works have been screened in over 100 film festivals around the world, have been shown in theatres and TV networks globally, was honoured with a Guggenheim Fellow in 2020, and most recently, was one of the eight individuals who were bestowed with a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.

Shannon Walsh
Governor General’s Award – Shannon Walsh

“I was really overwhelmed when I found out that I won the Governor General’s Award. It was a stunning moment, something really special that took my breath away,” she said during a recent phone interview from the set of her sixth documentary feature, Adrianne & the Castle, in Savanna, Illinois.

When she was studying at Concordia’s photography program, it was with the belief that images not only had the power to tell fascinating stories, but also to deeply move its viewers. “I thought photography was a better art, because I didn’t have to go through the hard task of managing so many people,” she added.

However, when Ms. Walsh started taking film and film editing courses, and practice using a movie camera more often – not to mention early cinema, films of the 70s and the French New Wave genre as artistic influences – she became a believer that motion pictures also had that power to make art and tell stories. “I didn’t come to the belief that documentaries can be a tool of social activism, it came to me,” she said. “All of a sudden I wanted to make documentaries that told stories of social justice, race and racism. That led me to the making of my first documentary, a short that told the story of how the move towards HIV prevention affected a group of young people in South Africa.”

“These are devastating situations that lead to the condition of people fighting back and surviving,” she added. “And telling it through the documentary is a fine way to broadcast those stories to a broad audience.”

When she is not producing and directing documentaries, Ms. Walsh is a interdisciplinary scholar, in which she pens research articles for a number of publications (35 of them so far), as well as teach film as an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and works at the University of Johannesburg as a Research Associate at the university’s South African Research Chair in Social Change.

Ms. Walsh is currently at work on her latest documentary feature Adrianne & the Castle, which she also wrote, and is slated for theatrical release in early 2024; it is also planned for broadcast on the CBC series The Passionate Eye, and will make the rounds of the festival circuit, including the prestigious Hot Docs festival in Toronto.

“Adrianne & The Castle is a story that is bigger than life, but it is also a universal story,” she said. “It’s about a couple who loved each other and lived in a 62-room castle in Illinois, and how the husband copes with being alone after his wife died in 2005. The documentary is a take on how you must move on after you lose the people whom you loved the most. It’s like a musical, a fairy tale or a love story, but with a dose of reality, as the husband has to leave his castle of love and his fantasy world.”Le présent courriel est destiné uniquement au(x) destinataire(s) susmentionné(s). Son contenu est confidentiel. Si vous avez reçu cette communication par erreur, veuillez nous en aviser immédiatement et effacer l’original, sans en tirer de copie, en dévoiler le contenu ni prendre quelque mesure fondée sur celui-ci. 

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Stuart Nulman
By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

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