Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner February 25, 2021
We’ve scored yet again, Peterborough!
In our ongoing, unofficial project to attract talented and accomplished people in the arts, our middle-sized city continues to draw people of achievement to reside here.
Sometimes they arrive quietly, as James Cullingham and his spouse did two years ago. Sometimes it is to live closer to family. Often it is because we have a supportive and vibrant arts sector here. And our size, plus the access to the out-of-doors is appealing. Sometimes too, it is Trent University with its long arm beckoning return.
They usually come without fanfare, not overwhelming us with all they have done elsewhere. Into the fabric of Peterborough they weave their commitment and their work, to all our benefit.
Here is a shining example. James Cullingham is a Toronto-born, award-winning documentary filmmaker, who graduated from Trent and went on to work for CBC as executive producer of “As It Happens,” and later to earn his PhD in Canadian and Latin American history, and launch his documentary film company, Tamarack Productions.
Here in Peterborough, Cullingham has joined the board of the Peterborough Historical Society.
He made “As Long as the River Flows” in 1991, a five-part series on Indigenous rights in Canada. Cullingham’s longtime passion has been social justice topics. He teaches occasional courses at Seneca College, and serves as adjunct professor at Trent, all the while continuing to make documentary films, even in COVID-19 times.
Having served on the board of the Canadian Association of Journalists, he has long been concerned about the harassment and threats endured by journalists in other countries, suffered because of their work telling the truth about people in power. Hence his present project producing a one-hour documentary on 3 refugee journalists, from Syria, Turkey and Mexico, who have been granted refugee status in Canada, and live now in the Toronto area.
All his subjects, whom he now knows well, are brave, conscientious and well -educated citizens of their troubled countries. All three, Abdulrahman Matar from Syria, Arzu Yildiz from Turkey and Luis Najera from Mexico make their homes in the Greater Toronto Area, seek to be reunited with loved ones from home and either have attained or are seeking Canadian citizenship.
That they have fled their native countries is harrowing, and James Cullingham wants to tell their stories. They themselves are storytellers whose lives have been threatened for such acts.
Canada, as a liberal democracy where freedom of speech and expression are protected, owes it to fellow practitioners of journalism to speak up for those who are threatened for truth-telling by tyrannical regimes. Canada must welcome and help to resettle such people.
And we do love our documentaries. Seventeen years of Reframe Film Festival have created a discerning audience in Peterborough for fact-based filmmaking.
Cullingham found a local film company started by Rob Viscardis, called Paradigm Films to work with. Viscardis is the associate producer and post-production co-ordinator of “The Cost of Freedom.” Hoping to have it out by fall, the team is seeking local and national financial support.
Rob was born here, attended Holy Cross and PCVS and made music for a while with a group called “Charming Ruins.” He then went on to filmmaking, and works with cinematographer Pawel Dwulit.
Cullingham says, “Many of my journalist colleagues in other countries do not enjoy the democratic rights and personal safety that I do. Each has paid a dreadful price professionally and personally for fleeing their countries for fear of their lives.”
Local support for “The Cost of Freedom” has come from Gzowski College, the Symons Trust for Canadian Studies, the Kawartha World Issues Centre and the New Canadians Centre.
In a nice small touch, I was at an Amnesty International Group 46 virtual meeting last week where the group voted that, from its present bank balance of $174, one hundred dollars would happily be donated to this project.