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Peter Mettler

Peter MettlerSeptember 7, 1958, Toronto

Peter Mettler, director, producer, cinematographer, editor and sound designer, is among Canada’s most critically acclaimed contemporary filmmakers. His work is notable for its innovative incorporation of diverse genres and approaches into cohesive new hybrids. Elusive and meditative, Mettler’s films are a compelling blend of personal inquiry, experimental and documentary form, metaphysical rumination and narrative drama. 

Mettler was part of a circle of filmmakers that emerged as a vital force in Canadian cinema in the 1980s (which has come to be known as the Toronto New Wave). The list of directors he collaborated with as a cinematographer early on in his career constitutes a who’s who of the Canadian film industry: Atom Egoyan (Next of Kin, 1984; Family Viewing, 1987), Patricia Rozema (Passion: A Letter in 16mm, 1985), Bruce McDonald (Knock! Knock!, 1985) and Jeremy Podeswa (David Roche Talks to You about Love, 1983).

Mettler, whose parents emigrated from Switzerland, was born in Toronto in 1958 and attended the prestigious Upper Canada College high school. In 1977, he entered Ryerson Polytechnic Institute’s film school, and before graduating in 1982, took a year-long leave to observe patients in a drug rehabilitation centre in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. His experiences formed the basis for his thesis film, the experimental narrative Scissere (1982), which drew critical attention when it premiered at the 1982 Festival of Festivals in Toronto. The film was also given the Norman McLaren Award for best film from Le conservatoire d’art cinématographique in Montreal. The film journalist Geoff Pevere described the film as “a highly impressionistic rendering of the twilight zone between rational thought and pure sensation.”

Mettler founded his Toronto-based production company, Grimthorpe Film, in 1985. In 1987, he began production on the commercial, semi-narrative feature The Top of His Head, which was completed and released two years later to polarized critical reactions. He then went on to direct the drama Tectonic Plates (1992), based on the play by Robert Lepage and Théâtre Repère. The film was screened at several international film festivals and won three awards.

In 1991, Mettler travelled to Churchill, Manitoba, with Swiss meteorologist and artist Andreas Zuest to film a personal documentary on the aurora borealis. The six-week shoot in sub-zero conditions resulted in Picture of Light (1994), a meditative, spiritual journey that crystallized Mettler’s trans-genre approach to filmmaking and affirmed his command of and original approach to the documentary form. The film won a dozen awards at international film festivals, including the La Sarraz Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland and awards for best film, best cinematography and best writing at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival. As Rick Groen noted in the Globe and Mail, Picture of Light’s subject matter perfectly suits Mettler’s preoccupation with the abstract and unquantifiable: “He’s found in the northern lights an objective correlative that perfectly matches his interests — the lights, too, are real and chimerical, palpably present and apparently illusory.”

Ten years in the making, Mettler’s most recent work, the three-hour long Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002), was filmed in various locations across the globe, and is part exploration of culture, part travel diary, part quest for the ineffable. Like most of his work, it defies easy categorization and continues his visionary project of documenting the outside world through intense introspection and the pursuit of near-mystical experience. Mettler describes his work in Salome Pitschen and Annette Schönholzer’s book Making the Invisible Visible as a search for “a balance between intellect and intuition, order and chaos, action and perception.”

By George Kaltsounakis

Film and video work includes

Reverie, 1976 (director; writer; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Untitled, 1976 (director)
Based on a True Story from Take 20: The Retrospective, 1977 (director)
Poison Ivy, 1978 (director; writer; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Home Movie, 1979 (director; writer; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Lancalot Freely, 1980 (director; writer; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Black Rage, 1981 (sound)
Gregory, 1981 (director; writer; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Open House, 1982 (cinematographer)
Potsdamer Platz, 1982 (cinematographer)
Rememberance, 1982 (cinematographer)
Scissere, 1982 (director; writer; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Second Chance, 1982 (actor)
David Roche Talks to You about Love, 1983 (cinematographer)
Resurrected Fields, 1983 (cinematographer)
Coming Apart, 1984 (cinematographer; TV)
Dedication, 1984 (director; cinematographer)
Georgetown Boys, 1984 (cinematographer)
Guardian Trust, 1984 (director; producer; promotional video)
Making a Difference, 1984 (co-cinematographer with Steve Deme)
Nelligan, 1984 (cinematographer)
Next of Kin, 1984 (cinematographer)
Nion (in the Kabaret de la Vita), 1984 (cinematographer)
Trip Around Lake Ontario, 1984 (cinematographer)
Youth and Unemployment, 1984 (cinematographer; TV)
Eastern Avenue, 1985 (director; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Knock! Knock!, 1985 (cinematographer)
Looking for Martin Lavut, 1985 (co-cinematographer with John Kevin Wright, Pat Clune, Tony Garin)
Passion: A Letter in 16mm, 1985 (cinematographer)
You Don’t Need, 1985 (cinematographer; music video for Jane Siberry)
Divine Solitude, 1986 (co-cinematographer with Kemp Archibald)
Kingdom Hall in Two Days, 1986 (co-cinematographer with Andy Mikita)
Vladimir, 1986 (co-director with Jane Siberry)
Artist on Fire: The Work of Joyce Wieland, 1987 (co-cinematographer with Babette Mangolte)
Family Viewing, 1987 (co-cinematographer with Robert Macdonald)
Walking after Midnight, 1988 (co-cinematographer with Baird Bryant, Geza Synkovicks)
The Top of His Head, 1989 (director; writer; co-cinematographer with Tobias Schliessler; co-editor with Margaret van Eerdewijk)
Standards, 1990 (co-cinematographer with David Makin, Doug Koch)
Tectonic Plates, 1992 (director; co-writer with Robert Lepage; co-cinematographer with Miroslaw Baszak)
Picture of Light, 1994 (director; writer; cinematographer; co-editor with Mike Munn, Alexandra Gill; producer)
Balifilm, 1997 (director; cinematographer; editor; producer)
Leda and the Swan, 1998 (co-cinematographer with Alexandra Gill; producer)
Krapp’s Last Tape, 2000 (co-cinematographer with Paul Sarossy)
Gambling, Gods and LSD, 2002 (director; writer; cinematographer; co-editor with Roland Schlimme; producer; sound)

Note: Updated to January 2003.

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