Jennifer Baichwal 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 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, FIPA, 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
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 have been supported over the past four decades by the Ontario
Arts Council. These include writer Michael Ondaatje, artist Michael Snow, pianist Eve Egoyan
and playwright Judith Thompson, and are in periodic rotation on TVOntario. The collection
received a 2006 Gemini nomination for Best Direction in a Performing Arts Program or Series.
Manufactured Landscapes, 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 (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 is co-directed by Burtynsky, produced and filmed by de Pencier. It premiered at the
Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013 and was a box office success in Canada,
playing in theatres for 4 months. It won the Toronto Film Critics Association Prize for Best
Canadian Film in Jan 2014 and Best Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards 2014. It has
been released in eleven 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
center hall into a northern forest, to commemorate the 20 th 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 in 2018.
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, was
subsequently released by Elevation Pictures, and broadcast by Bell and Netflix.
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 sits on the board of Swim Drink Fish Canada, and is a member of the Ryerson University
School of Image Arts Advisory Council. She has been a Director of the Board of the Toronto
International Film Festival since 2016, and is a passionate ambassador of their Share Her
Journey campaign, a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities
for women behind and in front of the camera.
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 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.
She is currently in development on several projects, and in production for a feature documentary on global insect collapse.
©Mercury Films Inc. 2021