'Such a surprise': Edmonton filmmaker awarded Order of Canada

Edmonton filmmaker Tom Radford has been bringing stories from Alberta to the big screen since the 1970s.

Tom Radford recognized for showcasing Alberta’s culture and history in film

Edmonton filmmaker Tom Radford has been appointed to the Order of Canada. (Tom Radford)

Edmonton filmmaker Tom Radford has been bringing stories from Alberta to the big screen since the 1970s.

Now, more than 40 years since his career began, the writer, director and producer is being awarded the Order of Canada for showcasing Alberta's history and culture through film.

"It's just such a surprise," said Radford, who almost didn't pick up the phone when an official from Ottawa called with the news.

"For some reason, I thought I better answer it. And they said 'Are you Tom Radford? Would you accept?' and I was just kind of gobsmacked."

Radford's body of work includes over 50 films. One of his first was the 1974 documentary Ernest Brown: Pioneer Photographer.

Tom Radford says he has fond memories of shooting this scene for the 1974 film Ernest Brown: Pioneer Photographer with friends Anne Wheeler, Reevan Dolgoy and Bill Thorsell. (Tom Radford)

Brown photographed the province while it was settled in the early 1900s and had strong views about Alberta's political future, Radford said.

"Alberta was kind of the last frontier and that made a special kind of people," he said. 

"People that not only had to fight to create farms or small businesses, but who had a kind of political idea of what Alberta could become." 

The intersection of Alberta's history, culture and identity is a central theme in many of Radford's films.

"They're not just about the past, they're not just about today, but they're about characters who have both those things kind of wrapped up inside them," Radford said.

Tom Radford (right) and his crew travelled to the Arctic to shoot the 2008 film Inuit Odyssey. (Tom Radford)

Some of Radford's more recent work has focused on the influence of corporations in Alberta.

The 2010 film Tipping Point explored the fight of environmentalists and First Nations to slow down the development of the oil sands in the Fort McMurray area.

"My films, I think more and more right now, are about not losing what is really so important about this province, and that is democracy," said Radford. 

"There's a wonderful history of grassroots democracy here, union history and the history of our Indigenous people. All these are in danger of being steamrolled by corporations."

As a new member of the Order of Canada, Radford hopes to encourage more storytelling from Alberta. 

"We're still fighting the same fight we were 50 years ago for kind of an Alberta voice in filmmaking, an independent voice," he said. 

"There's just so much right now to be done in Alberta, to hang onto the things that get lost when it becomes a big corporate culture."