‘I’m in a hurry to do more’: The River of My Dreams paints a portrait of Gordon Pinsent’s life and career — but he’s not done yet

Posted by admin|November 18, 2016

“I’m a little modest myself,” says Gordon Pinsent. “I have a problem with modesty.”

It’s the sort of thing many a star could (and does!) say, not always to be believed. But spend a few minutes in the presence of this 86-year-old Newfoundlander, and his natural humility becomes apparent.

When I mention that I saw his star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, in a prime spot outside the entrance to Roy Thomson Hall, he replies sheepishly: “I still haven’t seen it. I’m too embarrassed!”

But he’s more than earned it. Pinsent has been an actor on the stage and screen for almost six decades. In the ’60s, he performed at Stratford in Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Cyrnao de Bergerac and other plays; The festival there has just announced plans to give him this year’s Legacy Award.

Television parts included the title role in the ’60s series Quentin Durgens, M.P.; think The West Wing but more Canadian. In film, he wrote and starred in 1972’s The Rowdyman; was the voice of Babar in Babar: The Movie in 1989; and starred alongside Julie Christie in Sarah Polley’s 2006 film Away From Her.

Well, it has the Pinsent look

He is front and centre in The River of My Dreams, a new documentary by Brigitte Berman that has its world premiere Wednesday at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film follows Pinsent from an impoverished Newfoundland childhood though a variety of early jobs and his eventual calling as an actor and writer.

Pinsent is also an accomplished amateur artist, a skill he says grew out of a fear that he might not be good at anything else. “I was not good in school,” he says, “but if I did something wrong, I would sketch the teacher, and she’d be so pleased that I’d sort of get by. I was always looking for these escape routes to my next achievement.”

Berman’s previous documentary subjects have included Artie Shaw (Time Is All You’ve Got, which won the best documentary Oscar for 1985), Hugh Hefner and Bix Beiderbeck. She and her producing partners ran into Pinsent three years ago — at a TIFF party, as it happens.

“We were rapt and laughing,” she recalls. “I thought to myself as I was watching him: There’s something here that I would like to do.”

She emailed him the next day, though he didn’t say yes right away.

“The main thing interesting me has always been to find new and different things to do,” he says. “And I felt, I’ve been with this person for quite a while, there’s not a lot there that I have to cover. But Brigitte saw a way in which she would create her next program, and they have never been ordinary.”

One very unordinary technique in The River of My Dreams is the use of motion-capture to create a digital version of a younger Pinsent. “What docs usually do is they get a young actor to re-enact the person, and we all wanted to do something very different,” says Berman. “I didn’t want to walk in my own footsteps so to speak.”

The technique was time-consuming; the finished product arrived mere hours ahead of the first festival screening. But she knew the effort had paid off when her subject looked at the “young digital Gordon” on the screen, stroked his chin and remarked: “Well, it has the Pinsent look.”