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Director Larry Weinstein Reveals the Inspiration Behind “Clara’s Big Ride”

Posted January 26, 2015 in Bell Let's Talk by 0

Larry Weinstein is one of Canada’s most creative and accomplished filmmakers. Though the majority of his work has focused on the music world, he has also been highly recognized for the creation of dramatic pieces, such as “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” – a powerful story about a young Czech girl that was a victim of the Second World War. He is also well known for “Our Man in Tehran”, a 2013 film co-directed by Drew Taylor that explores the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, along with the prominent Canadian role that was less evident in the 2012 film “Argo.”  In each of his films, Larry has managed to push the boundaries of conventional documentary storytelling, resulting in an innovative and dynamic experience for viewers all over the world.

With a clearly distinct skill for storytelling, Larry Weinstein was chosen to chronicle six-time Olympic medalist and Bell Let’s Talk spokesperson Clara Hughes as she bicycled 11,000 km across Canada. In the film, “Clara’s Big Ride,” Weinstein captures Clara’s very personal story about her battle with depression with the hope of inspiring other Canadians to open up about their mental health struggles along the way.

1. What inspired you to film this documentary?

In truth, unlike most of my films, “Clara’s Big Ride”, was not my initial idea at all.   I was asked to direct it by the producer, who knew me most recently as the director of “The 13th Man” – the film I had directed for TSN about the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their amazing fans.  Since Clara is a sports hero and the subject of this epic bike tour around Canada, well…I guess I’ve become something of a sports director, which makes me smile because nearly all the films I’ve made in the last 30 years are about classical music!

Having said that, as soon as I heard about Clara’s Big Ride and the powerful and vital message behind it, I really could not resist working on this film.  It is such an important subject and I’m incredibly honoured to have spent the last year on it.

2. You had a front seat to see the reactions people had during Clara’s Big Ride – can you tell us a little about that?

All along the Ride, people were genuinely moved, at times to tears, by the grassroots approach of Clara and her frankness and integrity.  Many of them had been deeply involved with mental health issues personally – spending much of their lives dealing with these issues – and somehow it seemed that Clara’s presence galvanized their resolution to overcome the stigma that cast such a dark shadow upon their lives or the lives of loved ones.

When Clara cycled from city to city, town to town, community to community, it never felt as if she was some kind of rock star with some arbitrary cause to champion.  It was as if she was one of the audience, with her own very genuine struggles and a resolve to overcome them – and that the first step was simply to open up and talk about it.  How inspirational is that?

3. If viewers could walk away with one key takeaway after watching this documentary, what do you hope it would be?

This film is about individuals and their stories.  It’s about the power of speaking out, of addressing stigma, of reaching out for help and ultimately helping others.  It is about this amazing endeavour of Clara Hughes – a great Canadian, and a wonderful, giving person – and her attempt to get the ball rolling so that someday we can realize a stigma-free Canada when it comes to issues of mental health.

I hope that this documentary delivers a clear message to those suffering in silence that it’s okay to speak out and reach out for help. And perhaps equally important, for those who wrongly feel that they are not directly affected, to have real compassion because these issues are very real and do affect all of us.

4. How did you approach this project from a creative standpoint? Did you have a storyline in mind before filming, or did it come to you throughout the journey?

“Clara’s Big Ride” was, for me, one of the easiest films to jump into without huge creative conceptualization. It wasn’t about pre-scripting, or even pre-conceiving, and we didn’t really even want to know what the end result might look like.  There were too many variables along the way to impose an “auteur’s vision.” We simply made the decision from the outset to follow the ride in a linear fashion, and to alternate between the Ride itself and the stories of young Canadians who we met along the way. Finally, I asked Clara’s husband, Peter Guzman, to record Clara’s personal diary so that we could have access to some of her innermost thoughts along the 110 day journey.  What we did know from the beginning was that we wanted a human story – a personal approach and not a film that was all about statistics.

Our biggest problem in the end was that we had underestimated what a wealth of material would be accumulated along the way. The subject was so big, so expansive and so powerfully resonant that in order to get down to the required 43 minutes was a nearly insurmountable task. Fortunately, we had one of our country’s master film editors on this project – Steve Weslak.  He helped us find clarity along the way – even as we were still shooting.

5. What was your most memorable moment throughout this whole experience?

What a difficult question that is – there were so many moments.  The Ride was an incredible endeavour to witness.  Getting to know Clara and Peter to the extent that we did was something very special. But in a way, because we had taken the decision to deviate from the Ride itself – in our effort to be inspired by its message –  and focus on so many young people who shared their personal stories, this is what constantly moved us.  So many of the stories were utterly heartbreaking.  Clara says in the film how the stories she hears don’t just go in one ear and out the other – they go straight to her heart.  I think everyone in our crew identified strongly with that remark.

Perhaps most of all, we were tremendously struck by the courage of those who we interviewed – many telling their stories publically for the first time. They took that deep breath and did what they felt they had to do; they spoke out in the most personal terms, at times addressing the most painful details of their respective illnesses.  On a personal level, as the director and interviewer, I needed to brace myself to hold back tears.  That’s not something I’ve experienced before and, for me, will remain the most memorable element of the process of making this film.

Curious to see Larry Weinstein’s latest film? Watch Clara’s Big Ride documentary, airing on #BellLetsTalk Day – January 28 – on CTV, Crave TV and CTV2 at 7PM ET/PT. For more information, visit “Clara’s Big Ride” on the CTV website.

Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day

On January 28, for every text message, wireless and long distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, every tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and every Facebook share of that day’s Bell Let’s Talk Day image at Facebook.com/BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate 5 cents more to Canadian mental health initiatives.

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