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Film captures family upheaval, '60s lessons

Professor Clarke Mackey premieres latest feature documentary in Kingston.

Clarke Mackey’s latest documentary film delves into the history of his family and left-wing activism during the 1960s – but, he says, it is as much about the present as it is about the past.

“I felt that the usual caricature of the ’60s – hippies, peace, love, festivals and protest – was too simple. In the film, I wanted to show the complexity of the time, and perhaps offer lessons to current generations now struggling with their own forms of activism,” says Mr. Mackey, Professor in the Queen’s Department of Film and Media and an award-winning cinematographer, editor, producer and writer. 

Film and Media Studies Professor Clarke Mackey.

Revolution Begins At Home – premiering in Kingston this week at The Screening Room – tells the story of Mr. Mackey’s mother, Eleanor, who gave up a promising career as an abstract expressionist painter to become a full-time political activist in Toronto with the Maoist group called The Communist Party of Canada. The group, with the aim of fighting imperialism and capitalism, was headed by a charismatic ideologue and even more dogmatic disciples.

The filmmaker, who was 18 at the time, says his mother was disillusioned with the art world, and seeking purpose in her life. “My mother essentially went from being apolitical to hard-core left-wing overnight,” says Mr. Mackey, whose younger brother and sister also joined the group on their own initiative. “The group seemed to give her clear answers about the world.”

But that clarity didn’t last. After six months, dangerous family encounters and much turmoil, Eleanor dropped out of the movement. “She was confronted with many contradictions of the world, and ended up having something like a nervous breakdown,” he says.

While much of the story was difficult to confront, Mr. Mackey saw that his family’s story had all the elements of a good drama – and there was a great deal of footage, in photo and video form, taken for the most part by his brother and father. And through and beyond the family story, he believed there was a lot for current generations to learn.

“I think this film will definitely appeal to people now in their 60s and 70s, but my hope is that it will also appeal to the younger generation,” says Mr. Mackey, adding that this was a lengthy project for him – four years in the making. “There are lessons in it that will help everyone.”

Revolution Begins At Home, like many of Mr. Mackey’s previous films, draws from local talent. The movie features original music by Kevin Bowers, member of Holy Wow, and the sound mix was done by Matt Rogalsky, Assistant Professor in the Dan School of Drama and Music and a member of The Gertrudes.

Viewing times are available from The Screening Room. Mr. Mackey will be at all four Kingston screenings for question and answer sessions.