Montreal documentary maker Magnus Isacsson dies

Montreal documentary filmmaker Magnus Isacsson, known for crusading films that championed the environment and the little guy, has died at the age of 64.
Magnus Isacsson focused his lens on social and political issues. (National Film Board)

Montreal documentary filmmaker Magnus Isacsson, known for crusading films that championed the environment and the little guy, has died. He was 64.

Isacsson died Thursday in Montreal after a long illness, the National Film Board of Canada said in a statement.

He had completed work on Ma vie réelle, about troubled youths in Montreal North, for Amazone Film. His final film, it will be released this fall. Another Isacsson film still under production is Granny Power, which explores the Raging Grannies, the activist movement led by senior citizens.

The NFB remembered the director as "an accomplished filmmaker and tireless advocate of social justice."

"Magnus’s death is a great loss to the entire Quebec documentary film community," said NFB chairman Tom Perlmutter.

"Magnus was so dedicated, so passionate about what he did. His greatest wish would be for us to continue his legacy in socially relevant documentary filmmaking and his commitment to social justice." 

Isacsson's other documentaries included:

  • Uranium (1990), which explored the consequences of uranium mining in Canada.
  • Power (1996), a chronicle of the five-year campaign by James Bay Cree against the Great Whale hydro megaproject.
  • Hellbent for Justicea (2004), about innocent victims of Quebec’s biker wars.
  • The Battle of Rabaska: Chronicle of an Environmental Conflict (2012), which documented a citizen activist campaign  against a methane tanker terminal in their community.

Born in Sweden in 1948, Isacsson studied political science at the University of Stockholm and the University of Montreal. He immigrated to Canada in 1970.

He worked as a radio producer for Swedish Broadcasting and for the CBC in Montreal. From 1980 to 1986, he directed current affairs programs including Le Point, Contrechamp and The Fifth Estate.

In 1986, Isacsson became an independent documentary producer who specialized in films that follow conflict situations over a long period of time, according to his website.

His feature-length documentary View from the Summit (2002) is an examination of the politics of protest at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. He made two films about attempts to unionize McDonald’s restaurants: Union Trouble and Maxime, McDuff and the McDo, which was nominated for three Gémeaux Awards in Quebec. 

Isacsson won best documentary honours at the Paris Environment Film Festival and Grand Prize at the Lausanne Festival for Power, which championed aboriginal rights. 

A university educator and a pioneer in community media, Isacsson also taught audiovisual production in Zimbabwe and South Africa on behalf of Vidéo Tiers Monde. 

He is survived by his partner Jocelyne Clarke and daughters Anna and Béthièle.