was born in Montréal and grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. She studied philosophy and theology at McGill University, receiving an M.A. in 1994, supported by a McGill Major Fellowship and an FCAR Master’s Scholarship.
Baichwal has been directing and producing documentaries for 25 years. Among other films, installations and lens-based projects, she has made 10 feature documentaries which have played all over the world and won multiple awards nationally and internationally.
Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles
, her first feature documentary, won an International Emmy for Best Arts Documentary in 1999. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1998 and was nominated that year for a Best Feature Documentary Genie Award. It won Best Biography at Hot Docs in 1999 and was picked up for theatrical release by Mongrel Media in Canada, Zeitgeist Films in the U.S., and Uplink in Japan. The film has been sold for broadcast all over the world, and has been selected for a number of international film and television festivals, including Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, FIPADOC, Banff (where it received a Rockie nomination), Istanbul and Edinburgh.
The Holier It Gets
documents a trek Baichwal took with her brother and two sisters to the source of the Ganges river with her father’s ashes. The film won Best Independent Canadian Film and Best Cultural Documentary at Hot Docs 2000, Geminis for Best Editing, Best Writing, and Best Direction, and was nominated for the Donald Brittain Award and the Chalmers Documentarian Award. It was commissioned by TVOntario and features music by Ravi Shankar and John McLaughlin.
The True Meaning of Pictures
is a feature-length film on the work of Appalachian photographer Shelby Lee Adams. It was commissioned by TVOntario, Bravo!, SBS Australia and Discovery Germany. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2002 and was invited to the Sundance International Film Festival in January 2003. It won a Gemini Award for Best Arts Documentary in 2003, has played at numerous international festivals and is used throughout North American universities as a pedagogical tool to explore issues of representation in documentary film and photography.
Baichwal, along with her partner Nicholas de Pencier, was commissioned in 2003-4 to make forty short films on artists who had been supported over the previous four decades by the Ontario Arts Council. These included writer Michael Ondaatje, artist Michael Snow, pianist Eve Egoyan and playwright Judith Thompson, and were on periodic rotation on TVOntario. The collection received a 2006 Gemini nomination for Best Direction in a Performing Arts Program or Series.
, a documentary about the work of artist Edward Burtynsky, was a co-production among Mercury Films, Foundry Films and the National Film Board. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2006 and won Best Canadian Feature Film, was in competition at Sundance the following January, and has since received a number of other awards, notably a Genie for Best Documentary, Al Gore’s Reel Current Award and the 2006 Toronto Film Critics Award for Best Canadian Feature and Best Documentary. It played theatrically in over 15 territories worldwide, after a prolonged and successful run in Canada, and was named as one of 150 Essential Works In Canadian Cinema History by TIFF in 2016.
Act of God
, a documentary on the metaphysical effects of being struck by lightning and another collaboration between Mercury and Foundry, opened the Hot Docs Film Festival in April 2009 and was released in Canada afterwards by Mongrel Media. It played at a number of international festivals, and was also released by Zeitgeist Films in the U.S. and Against Gravity in Poland. The film features Paul Auster, Dannion Brinkley and Fred Frith. It was commissioned by The Documentary Channel in Canada, Arte in France and Channel 4 in the U.K.
In 2011, Baichwal completed Payback
, a documentary adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
, with the National Film Board of Canada and Ravida Din (previous Director General, English Language Program). The film premiered in the World Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012 and was released in Canada (Mongrel Media) in March 2012 and the U.S. in April 2012. It won a special jury prize for Best Environmental Documentary at FIFE, 2013.
The feature documentary, Watermark
—about human interaction with water around the world— marked Baichwal and de Pencier’s second collaboration with Edward Burtynsky. The documentary was co-directed by Burtynsky, produced and filmed by de Pencier. It premiered at theToronto International Film Festival in September 2013 and was a box office success in Canada, playing in theatres for four months. It won the Toronto Film Critics Association Prize for Best Canadian Film in January 2014 and Best Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2014. It has been released in 11 countries. To complement the release of Watermark
in Canada, Baichwal and de Pencier created a large-scale video installation, utilizing live-mixed imagery from Watermark
that ran for 12+ hours during Nuit Blanche 2013, in Toronto.
In 2015, Baichwal and de Pencier were commissioned to transform the Art Gallery of Ontario’s centre hall into a northern forest, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rheostatics’ celebrated Music Inspired by the Group of Seven
. The sold out live performance ran for three nights and the large-scale video installations, projected and live-mixed across all four walls of Walker Court, created an immersive environment. In 2016, an element from this piece, Ice Forms
, was exhibited as part of the AGO’s The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris
, and has since travelled to the Art Gallery of Hamilton as part of Water Works
Baichwal and de Pencier created live playback film for the Tragically Hip’s 2014 and 2016 tours, and co-directed Long Time Running
, a feature documentary on the Tragically Hip’s 2016 summer tour. The documentary, produced by Banger Films, premiered at TIFF 2017. It was subsequently released by Elevation Pictures and broadcast by Bell and Netflix.
Baichwal’s most recent collaboration with de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky is The Anthropocene Project
. It includes a major touring exhibition which debuted simultaneously at the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada and is currently travelling around the world. The feature documentary film Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
premiered at TIFF in 2018, played Sundance and the Berlinale, and was released theatrically in Canada by Mongrel Media and in the U.S. by Kino Lorber in September 2019, and is now in international release. The film won the Toronto Film Critics Association prize for Best Canadian Film, and a Canadian Screen Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Anthropocene Project
also includes an art book published by Steidl, and an educational program in partnership with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. For more information visit theanthropocene.org
Into the Weeds: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company,
Baichwal’s 10th feature, opened the Hot Docs International Film Festival in April 2022. The film follows the story of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a former Bay Area groundskeeper, who takes on the agrochemical corporation Monsanto after a terminal cancer diagnosis. Lee’s story, his trial and other plaintiffs’ observations telescope out to the bigger picture of global pesticide use and its systemic repercussions. It is in festival release around the world, and has won awards at Ji.hlava Documentary Film Festival and the Festival dei Popoli. The film opens in the US in October, and a global impact campaign is in progress.
Baichwal has given numerous workshops and talks on documentary film practice and her work, and has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses at York University’s film department. She chairs the board of Swim Drink Fish Canada, and is a member of the Toronto Metropolitan University School of Image Arts Advisory Council. She was a Director of the Board of the Toronto International Film Festival for 6 years, and remains a passionate ambassador of their Share Her Journey campaign. Baichwal is currently in development on several projects.
© Mercury Films Inc. 2023