Brigitte Berman’s latest documentary, The River of My Dreams: A Portrait of Gordon Pinsent, gives us a personal glimpse at Gordon Pinsent’s life as an artist, actor, poet, painter, husband, and father.
In the film, Berman combines archival finds, interviews with artists, friends and family with a form of motion capture animation. But it is Pinsent’s knack for telling a good tale, and doing so with grace, immense honesty, and a great sense of humor, that really drive the film.
Pinsent takes us through a tour of his hometown in Newfounland. He vividly describes how he’d escape to the movies any chance he got, “I was creating another world that I wanted [to live in].” It was through film and his sketches that Pinsent realized he wanted to do more than work in the mill.
In 1948, he left the dominion of Newfoundland and came to “mainland” Canada. Using his sense of humour and creativity, he soon made his way to Toronto. In a short a time, Pinsent joined the army and was stationed in Winnipeg. This is where his acting and theatre work commenced. While in Winnipeg, he would marry. This relationship did not end well.
“O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there…” Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.
Back in Toronto, he meets his second wife, and true companion, Charmion King. Whenever he speaks of Charm, Pinsent’s love and respect are palpable. He candidly talks about how she helped him on and off the stage. “I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me…,” he recites.
After trying to ‘make it in Hollywood’, Pinsent and his new family find themselves back in Newfounland. The Rowdyman, a film he wrote and starred in, is the reason he found himself ‘home’ again. From here on out, Pinsent decides to create his own work to steer his career the way he wanted it to go. He also wanted to work where he wanted to live.
As charming and engaging as Pinsent’s account are, Berman includes interviews with some of his friends and colleagues to further illustrate why Pinsent is one of the most recognizable and respected actors in Canada over the last several decades. Norman Jewison describes his casting of Pinsent in The Thomas Crown Affair, alongside Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen, as being because Pinsent was “consistent and aware of the performance… the believability [of it].” Later in the film, Jewison puts it simpler, “there’s something solid… and legitimate about him.”
Throughout his entire career, on-stage, on television, and in film, Pinsent performs with much gusto. To him, “acting is a commitment to life… the study of life.”
“Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” Shakespeare, Macbeth.
The River of My Dreams is an intimate and personal portrait of Gordon Pinsent — a man so proud of his humble beginnings, it is evident in his work, mannerisms, and career trajectory. Pinsent is a true icon of Canadian television, stage and film; he is also a man of many talents, whose ups and downs in life kept him grounded and humble.
The film’s style may not appeal to all. However it is not so much about style, but about how Berman brings us into a candidly intimate time with Pinsent. I would say the animation was unnecessary, yet I did like being able to look at his drawings and paintings. To be truthful, though, what I enjoyed the most, aside from his personal stories, was Pinsent’s reciting of various lines from various poems, Shakespeare plays, and songs. The lines he recites through the film echo important aspects of his life, but also show us his understated yet great talent.
“When I have fears that I will cease to be… then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.” John Keats.
The River of My Dreams begins its National theatrical release in Toronto at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema on Friday, January 27. In Halifax, Ottawa, Calgary & Vancouver on Friday, February 17 at Cineplex theatres. It will also screen at Ottawa’s National Arts Center in a special presentation for Canada’s 150th Birthday Celebration on Wednesday, February 15.