Clarke Mackey

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Clarke Mackey (born September 30, 1950) is a Canadian filmmaker, author, and educator. His 1971 feature film The Only Thing You Know is considered a key film in the early period in Canadian cinema.[1]

In the last three decades Mackey has focused his filmmaking and writing on vernacular culture. 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.[2]

Early works[edit]

When Mackey produced his first feature at the age of 19 he had already produced four short films, three of which had been broadcast on Canadian national television.[3] That feature film, The Only Thing You Know (1971), tells the story of a teenage girl's attempts at independence using a documentary shooting style and improvised dialogue. It won two Canadian Film Awards, including the award for Best Actress, in 1971.[4] It was restored and released on DVD with commentaries and additional material in 2006.[5]

Clarke Mackey was one of four cinematographers 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.[6] Mackey’s documentary A Right to Live (1977) is called "one of the key moments in the history of committed documentary in Canada."[7]

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.[8] Target, a pioneering project in digital interactive drama which Mackey directed, won him a CINDY Award (Association of Visual Communicators, Los Angeles) in 1989.[9]

Work in vernacular culture[edit]

In the early 1980s Mackey took a six-year sabbatical from his career as a Canadian filmmaker to work 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 innovative 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] Mackey worked without a crew or lights to produce an intimate profile of three very poor communities in Mexico called Disrobing the Emperor: The New Commons in Mexico (2000). 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 fascination with vernacular culture and outlines how he has come to understand it. The book argues that, in addition to fine art and mass culture, there is a third category of cultural expression that is often misunderstood: vernacular culture. This includes many creative, non-instrumental activities that provide meaning in life: conversations between friends, social gatherings and rituals, play and participatory sports, informal storytelling, musical jam sessions, cooking and gardening, homemade architecture, and street festivals. It maintains that practising and celebrating such activities more – at the expense of passive, consumer culture – would have far-reaching benefits for people and communities.[12]


Television and film[edit]




  1. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia. Film: Film History.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-16. Retrieved 2011-11-25. 
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2011-11-25. 
  4. ^ Academy of Canadian Film and Television. Canada’s Awards Database.
  5. ^ Black, Barbara. "DVD project saves film pioneers: Worldwide distribution of neglected '70s films." Concordia's Thursday Report Vol. 30, No.1 September 15, 2005
  6. ^ Festival Express. Internet Movie Database.
  7. ^ Steven, Peter (1993). Brink of Reality: New Canadian Documentary Film and Video. Toronto: Between the Lines. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-921284-68-0.
  8. ^ Academy of Canadian Film and Television. Canada’s Awards Database.
  9. ^ Clarke Mackey’s CV. Accessed 18 Nov. 2011.
  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. ^