Nfld. & Labrador

Danny Williams hopes documentary teaches people about province

A new documentary from the National Film Board of Canada looks back on former premier Danny Williams and his political career, and will be shown on 10 screens across Newfoundland and Labrador next week.
A documentary film about Danny Williams and his time as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is set to premier at all Arts and Culture Centres across the province on Monday. (CBC)

A new documentary from the National Film Board of Canada looks back on former premier Danny Williams and his political career, and will be shown on 10 screens across Newfoundland and Labrador next week.

Danny is co-directed by William MacGillivray and Justin Simms, and produced by Annette Clarke, and takes a look at the changes the province went through during Williams' premiership from 2003 until 2010.

Williams said taking part in a film like this wasn't an easy task, but he felt the final product had a balanced approach.

"It's not an easy thing to do. People have asked me to write a book, and I've said no up to this point, and I've been approached several times before to do this," he said.

Despite the Danny one-man show that people thought was going on out there, nothing was further from the truth … I took advice, I listened to advice. I didn't always follow it, but I followed it a lot.- Danny Williams

"You know, you're an open book when you're in politics, but when you get to do this kind of a film you're a much more open book, and I guess you've got to trust the professionalism of the people you're dealing with."

Simms, one of the directors, said there was a sense of excitement when they received word that Williams was keen to take part in the film.

"He's such a figure, certainly in politics, but also when you look at kind of the totality of what he's accomplished up to now between Oxford and the law stuff and the cable stuff, so really there's just so much in there to find a really intriguing story, so I think we were mostly excited," said Simms.

'No regrets'

Williams became known in the province, and the rest of Canada, for an often rocky relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, particularly when it came to talking about oil.

But Williams said he has "no regrets" about anything that went on between him and the country's leader.

"You know, we did out best in the beginning to reach out to him, invited him to the convention, gave him the token standing ovation, went back into a private meeting in good faith to ask his assistance as the government of Canada to enable us to pressure the oil companies into developing a field that they hadn't developed for 25 years," said Williams.

"He immediately just turned on me with those nasty green eyes of his and just looked me straight in the eyes and said, 'You're not going to eff with my country,' so I turned around and said, 'Well b'y, if that's the way it's going to be, you're not going to eff with my province, either.' And that was the beginning of the downhill there. He started it, and I was quite prepared to try and finish it."

Williams added he's not worried about negative feedback about the film because that's just another aspect of public life, but he hopes it helps young people get a better understanding of recent Newfoundland and Labrador history.

Never a one-man show

The film has already been screened to some audiences at film festivals this year, and Williams said he hopes the documentary will help educate people from the province and elsewhere in Canada what Newfoundland and Labrador during that time was all about.

"I guess there was some criticism there of sorts. I mean, nobody's perfect and if I tried to be portrayed as somebody who did everything right all his life, then that wouldn't be appropriate either, but there was some talk there of things that may have been done right or wrong, whatever, which is good — I think that's fair comment," he said.

The film features commentary from members of Williams' family, but also people who worked closely with him during his time as premier.

"Despite the Danny one-man show that people thought was going on out there, nothing was further from the truth. I worked with a close team of advisors and confidants … so I took advice, I listened to advice. I didn't always follow it, but I followed it a lot."

Danny is set to hit screens at the Arts and Culture Centres across the province, as well as a few local theatres, starting on Monday.

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