Clarke Mackey

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Clarke Mackey (born September 30, 1950) is a Canadian filmmaker, author, and educator. He is known for his 1971 feature film, The Only Thing You Know, part of the early period in Canadian cinema,[1] and for the focus in his filmmaking and writing on vernacular culture.[2][3] His book on the topic, Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century, was published in 2010. Mackey teaches in the Department of Film and Media at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.[4]

Early works[edit]

Mackey began producing short films as a teenager. Three of these were broadcast on Canadian national television.[5] He produced his first feature film, The Only Thing You Know, in 1971 at the age of 19; it tells the story of a teenage girl's attempts at independence using a documentary shooting style and improvised dialogue. The film won two Canadian Film Awards, including the award for Best Actress, in 1971.[6] It was restored and released on DVD with commentaries and additional material in 2006.[7]

Mackey was one of four cinematographers who worked on the 1970 Canadian concert film Festival Express featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Band, that was not released until 2003, 33 years after the original event. Writer Peter Steven called Mackey's 1977 documentary A Right to Live "one of the key moments in the history of committed documentary in Canada."[8]

In the 1980s, Mackey directed several episodes of the Emmy Award-winning TV series Degrassi Junior High. His second feature, Taking Care, won a Canadian Film and Television Association Award as Best Feature and was nominated for the Best Actress Genie Award in 1988.[9] Target, a project in digital interactive drama which Mackey directed, won him a CINDY Award from the Association of Visual Communicators in Los Angeles in 1989.

Work in vernacular culture[edit]

In the early 1980s Mackey worked for six years with children in a nursery school.[10] After this experience, Mackey focused much of his personal work on exploring vernacular culture in many forms. Dance on the Edge, Mackey's third feature, an experimental documentary about a vernacular celebration, premiered at the Figueira da Foz International Film Festival in Portugal in 1996. His documentary website Memory Palace: Vernacular Culture in the Digital Age was nominated for a WebSage Streamers Award and was featured in Forbes magazine (1999).[11] In 2000 Mackey worked without a crew or lights to produce Disrobing the Emperor: The New Commons in Mexico, a profile of three impoverished communities in Mexico. Eyes in the Back of Your Head (2003) was made in collaboration with ex-federal inmates in Kingston, Ontario.

Mackey's 2010 book Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century documents his decades-long study of vernacular culture and outlines his view of it. The book argues that, in addition to fine art and mass culture, there is a third category of cultural expression: vernacular culture. Examples of this are conversations between friends, social gatherings and rituals, play and participatory sports, informal storytelling, musical jam sessions, cooking and gardening, homemade architecture, and street festivals. Mackey maintains that practising and celebrating these unscripted activities – at the expense of passive, consumer culture – would benefit both people and communities.


Television and film[edit]

  • On Nothing Days (1967)[12]
  • Ruins (1968 film)|Ruins (1968)
  • Grass (1968 film)|Grass (1968)
  • Mihi P. (1969)
  • The Only Thing You Know (1970)
  • A Right To Live (1975)
  • All Day Long (disambiguation)|All Day Long (1983)
  • Pulling Flowers (1984)
  • Taking Care (1987)[13]
  • Dance on the Edge (1995)
  • Disrobing the Emperor (2000)
  • Eyes in the Back of Your Head (2003)
  • New Season Coming (2008)


  • Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century (2010). Toronto: Between the Lines. ISBN 978-1-897071-64-9.


  1. ^ "The History of Film in Canada". The Canadian Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Kathleen Gallagher; Barry Freeman (2016). In Defence of Theatre: Aesthetic Practices and Social Interventions. University of Toronto Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-4426-3080-2.
  3. ^ Laura J. Murray; S. Tina Piper; Kirsty Robertson (March 2014). Putting Intellectual Property in Its Place: Rights Discourses, Creative Labor, and the Everyday. OUP USA. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-19-933626-5.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-16. Retrieved 2011-11-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2011-11-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Only Thing You Know". Academy of Canadian Film and Television. Canada's Awards Database.
  7. ^ Black, Barbara. "DVD project saves film pioneers: Worldwide distribution of neglected '70s films." Concordia's Thursday Report Vol. 30, No.1 September 15, 2005
  8. ^ Steven, Peter (1993). Brink of Reality: New Canadian Documentary Film and Video. Toronto: Between the Lines. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-921284-68-0.
  9. ^ "Taking Care". Academy of Canadian Film and Television. Canada's Awards Database.
  10. ^ Mackey, Clarke (2010). Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century. Toronto: Between the Lines. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-897071-64-9
  11. ^ "Let it Stream." Forbes, Summer 1998. pp. 90-91.
  12. ^ Manny Farber (2 February 2016). Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Faber: A Library of America Special Publication. Library of America. p. 1144. ISBN 978-1-59853-470-2.
  13. ^ Variety Film Reviews. 20. Garland Pub. 1987.

External links[edit]