The seeds of Peter Raymont's new documentary The West Wind: The Vision of Tom Thomson were sown way back during his childhood days attending summer camp in Algonquin Provincial Park.
"My mother always wanted me to make a film about Tom Thomson," the celebrated Canadian filmmaker revealed on CBC's Q cultural affairs show.
Raymont's parents sent him to summer camp in Algonquin as a child and he recalled paddling its many lakes and rivers. After a recent health scare, he decided to focus on the films that were truly important to him, which led the noted filmmaker back to the park and to Thomson's tale.
"This is that film I’ve always really wanted to make. It’s the film my business partners didn’t want me to make because these theatrical documentaries don’t make you any money," he says.
Still, he noted that the film — made with Michèle Hozer and unspooling in theatres across Canada — is doing well for a theatrical documentary and he attributes it to the iconic and innovative Canadian artist's captivating life story.
"People are often drawn to Thomson because of the mystery of his death. It’s fascinating, right? He was so young. He was at the height of his powers: he was just becoming famous and his paintings were starting to sell, he was thinking of going out West to paint the Rocky Mountains… It’s 1917 and his friends are in the war -- A. Y. Jackson is over there -- and yet it’s Thomson in Algonquin Park who dies," Raymont says.
"After his death… they created the Group of Seven partly in his honour and they never went painting in Algonquin Park anymore. They went off to Algoma. They went west. They went to the Arctic. Algonquin Park was Tom’s studio and they kind of respected and revered that."
Raymont talked to Q's Jian Ghomeshi about his personal theory of how Thomson died, why he thinks The West Wind and other Thomson paintings resonate so powerfully with Canadians — urbanites included — and the worrisome state of the documentary industry amid recent federal government cuts.