Home Interviews Exclusive interview with Selwyn Jacob: The Producer of the documentary on Harry Jerome
Exclusive interview with Selwyn Jacob: The Producer of the documentary on Harry Jerome PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier   
Tuesday, 27 December 2011 18:27


Selwyn Jacob was born in Trinidad and Tobago and has been living in Canada since 1968. He earned his Masters Degree at the University of Southern California and then embarked upon a combined career as an educator and filmmaker. He became a teacher and eventually a principal. He later began his career as a producer and as an independent filmmaker. In this capacity, he directed Remember Amber Valley in 1984 and Carol’s Mirror in 1991. He directed and produced The Road Taken in 1996.

Selwyn Jacob is an award-winning filmmaker who has been working in Vancouver for the NFB Pacific and Yukon centre since the late 90’s. In that regard, Selwyn Jacob joined the National Film Board of Canada in 1997 as a Cultural Diversity Producer. He produced many films and documentaries throughout his career. His documentaries chronicled many subjects regarding Chinese Canadians and Canadian soldiers in World War I, among others.He produced and covered crucial projects such as The Journey of Lesra Martin, the story of the former street youth who helped, along with other Canadians, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to be released from prison.  The character and life of Lesra Martin was also portrayed in the famous movie “The Hurricane” starring Denzel Washington as Rubin Carter and Vicellous Reon Shannon in the role of Lesra Martin.

Jeni LeGon: Living in a great big way is among one of the most acclaimed documentaries of Selwyn Jacob.  It is about the first Black women actresses in Hollywood who signed long-term contracts with a major Hollywood studio, MGM.  The agreement was to earn between 1 250$ and 4500$ per week for a five-year period. Jacob’s more recent productions include Between the Laughter, a film about Stephen O’Keefe’s journey to become Canada’s first deaf stand-up comedian; My Father, My Teacher, an exploration of the relationship between Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen and his father.

In April 2009, Jacob began working on the production of the documentary Harry Jerome[1] with director Charles Officer. The documentary is based on the critically acclaimed book by author Fil Fraser entitled Running Uphill.   The film explores the turbulent life and career of the record-setting icon African-Canadian track and field star.  At one time Jerome was the fastest man on the planet and he is considered the Canadian Jessie Owens.

The late Jerome competed in three Olympic Games and made history by winning the bronze medal in Tokyo in 1964.  The athlete brought a lot of pride to Canada.  He was recognized as a national symbol of excellence in the sports world and in the community.  Jerome is immortalized by a beautiful statue in Vancouver’s Stanley Park and by the multi-sport Harry Jerome Centre in BC.
Jacob was reviewed in several publications such as 'Who’s who in Black Canada' (Dawn P.  Williams, 2002), “Choosing the Road Taken”, New Trail (University of Alberta Alumni publication, 1997). Selwyn Jacob gave us a legacy and we are looking forward to his next contributions.   This interview was conducted in 2009. 


Patricia Turnier talks to Selwyn Jacobs:


P.T.  How did you start your career as a filmmaker and a producer?

S.J. I remember years ago when I was thinking of registering to film schools, all of my contemporaries were going to universities.  They were studying things like art, science, engineering, law and medicine.  None of those disciplines appealed to me.  I wasn’t brave enough to say to people this is really what I want to do.  It seemed so farfetched that I thought people would laugh and the last thing you need is to be discouraged.  I even didn’t tell my parents what I really wanted to do.  I said that I would earn a BA which I did.  I got a bachelor of education to become a teacher.  When I graduated from film school, I had to make a decision to become a filmmaker.

Actually, I knew in my heart that I wanted to do this ever since I was 11 years old, after seeing my first movie.  At that time, I didn’t see any images of Blacks on the screen and I told myself I wanted to contribute in this field by becoming an actor.  Afterwards, I realised that it is not the actor who decides which story needs to be told.  I have to say that I suffered a lot because people feel the need to belittle you when you chose a field in the arts.  I didn’t have any mentors so that didn’t help.

At the time, most people had a very limited perception of the profession.  Some thought that filmmaking was only about having a lab to work on the process of the film.  They had a very abstract concept of what it is.  Very few people in my surrounding were knowledgeable on the part of story telling or being able to use the latest available technology.

The closest person I met in Edmonton as a mentor was Fil Fraser, who wrote “Running Uphill”.  He produced about three feature films in the mid-seventies.  This is how I became fascinated with his work.  We became good friends and we maintained our companionship.  His work definitely inspired me.  When I became a producer in Alberta, I made a film (“We Remember Amber Valley”) about the Black La Biche community, which no longer exists. I researched this community and discovered that they had come from Oklahoma.

They arrived in Alberta in 1910.  I met those people and I wanted to tell their story.  This is how I made my first documentary in 1984.  This short movie about Amber Valley became a living archive. I was the only Afro-Canadian filmmaker at the time in that province.  I had to find a way to get people to work with me.  It wasn’t easy to get support, either in the form of grants or otherwise.  I told myself that I would have to make this film on my own.  I became the producer of my own movie.  It was therefore part of my job to get the money that I needed in order to produce the movie.

It became a turning point for me.  When I did this film, it gave me the opportunity to put my producing and filmmaking experience on my resume.  Four years later, I made my next movie.  Eventually, my second piece of work ended up at the Toronto Film Festival.  I didn’t expect that so soon.  So, progressively, this is how I became involved in filmmaking.

P.T.  You produced several documentaries regarding Afro-Canadian history.  Why is this theme important to you?

S.J.  The reason I produced documentaries on this theme is one of the causes I decided to be involved in filmmaking.  Growing up in Trinidad, I saw that the representation of Blacks was rare in this area.  We were underrepresented in cinema and I became fascinated with this field.  I went to film schools in the United States for several years.  I later on lived in Western Canada.  At that time, there was still very little representation of Blacks in cinema and related fields.  I became attracted to communicating black culture because it didn’t really exist in the media.  So this also became a practical choice, since there was a significant market among the viewers.  I had also the education to talk about black history.
I started teaching in Alberta.  Someone heard that I studied in the filmmaking field and I was then approached to produce the film about the Black La Biche community, situated 20 minutes from the place I was teaching. When I started with this film (“We Remember Amber Valley”), I wanted to continue working on similar stories.  I thought it was important to put on the map a cinema venue regarding Afro-Canadian history. That became the catalyst for me.

P.T.  So far, which one of your documentaries regarding the Afro-Canadian subject had the most profound impact among viewers?

S.J.  I don’t know if I can pick one.   I think the one about the sleeping car porters, “The Road Taken”, is the one which had the most profound impact on the viewers because it is an untold story.  The theme and the angle I chose were different from the common perception at the time.  The insight was that they had a very important job.  For over 100 years it was seen as a very nice job with all the benefits coming with it.  The staff had nice looking uniforms; they travelled the country and saw places which the average Canadian did not see.

P.T.  Did this perception come from mainstream society or from the Afro-Canadians?

S.J.  I think it was from both.  People didn’t know that a lot of discrimination existed on this job.  If you got in as a sleeping car porter and you were about 35-45 years old, it was the only job you could get as an Afro-Canadian.  There was no opportunity to rise.  The Canadian rail road companies were emulating what the American rail road companies were doing at the time.  There were African American porters who went to Canada and faced the same difficult working conditions.

P.T.  Was it regardless of the level of education of those people?

S.J.  The level of education didn’t matter.  Having a high school degree or a college degree didn’t make a difference.  It was really the only job they could get at that time.  When the Afro-Canadians applied to the rail road companies as car porters it was the only assignment they could get.  You could not be a cook or anything else.  Someone could have gone to a technical school and received basic engineering skills or other types of skills but you couldn’t work as a mechanic on the train,  a supervisor, or anything else.

When I produced the documentary, it was a shock to people both mainstream and not mainstream to learn that this sort of discrimination existed.  It remained unchallenged because many of these men feared for their jobs, and wouldn’t dare speak out.  Their silence gave more power to people who were discriminating against them.  This allowed them to maintain the status quo.  If those men complained about their working conditions, they could be fired.  The next man on line would get the job with the same difficult conditions.

P.T.  Did unions exist at the time in this field?

S.J.  There were no unions but even if there were, they sort of colluded with the employer.  It would take a very serious person and a very brave person to challenge the status quo.  The attitude of not complaining was instilled because the workers were afraid to speak up, as their jobs could be at risk.  They didn’t have a lot of options.  The porters whom I interviewed said that if they didn’t do this job anymore, the only other possibilities for them would be to become a shoe shine person, or a cab driver.

P.T.  It was probably easier for them to talk about this situation after their retirement.

S.J.  Definitely, or else it was their children who spoke.  At the time, the porters had a form of split personalities.  They had to put on a mask and they were not allowed to be vocal about what they were going through.  When they were at home, not all the members of their families necessarily knew about their pains.  However, I have to say that historically the porters had help from some politicians and from the Jewish Labour Congress.  They found allies with people connected to human and workers rights organizations.  They gave them support and they were able to challenge the union.  Eventually, they won in the 60’s and 70’s.  This is how the job became non-racialized.  An Afro-Canadian could become a conductor, for instance.

If I go back to my documentary “The Road Taken”, it is a bittersweet story.  Within the Black community, working as a porter was seen as attaining a certain amount of status.  It was perceived as a decent job, relatively speaking, on the surface.  On the trains, they were treated as second class citizens.  They could not eat in the dining room.  They could not do a lot of things and it was very difficult to stand up for their rights when they were insulted and mistreated.

I mentioned before that to know what was really going on, you had to speak to the children of those porters.  For instance, for “The Road Taken”, I interviewed a young guy from Montreal (who used to write for the Montreal Star) called Clifton Ruggles.  As he was growing up, his father never spoke about his job.  When he went to University later as a summer student, he worked as a porter to experience what his father went through.

P.T.   I suppose that would be the best way to have a better understanding and be able to empathise.

S.J.  Exactly.  I have to add that Clifton Ruggles wrote some poems about this experience.  It is when you experience yourself what is really going on that you can understand how bitter these men were, because they didn’t share with their children what was happening.  However, they were able to send their children to universities to make sure that they would have better working conditions.

When I was filming “The Road Taken”, Montreal played an important part in the documentary.  We filmed in Little Burgundy because there were porters from this neighbourhood.  We also covered the famous night clubs of the era where the porters hung out.  All the famous African Americans, such as Louis Armstrong, used to play in these night clubs.  The porters spoke to me about celebrities of their era such as the Afro-Canadian hockey players of the 1930’s and 40’s.  They were originally from Nova Scotia, and hockey was part of their culture. For those people, when they were not working out in sports, in the music field, in education or in any other domain, they were working on the trains. 

For the documentary, I also approached a social club in Montreal, called “The colored women’s club”.  The members of this club were primarily the wives of porters.  80% of Afro-Canadians in Montreal worked in the railroads.  They were considered relatively well-off compared to other black people who didn’t have a decent job at that time.  I spoke to one of the ladies from the social club who suggested I highlight both the good aspects and the bad ones in my documentary.  

In other words, she wanted me to show a nuanced portrait of the job.  So, I first presented in the documentary the good aspects of the job, and then the frustrations related to the discriminatory practices and the lack of promotions.  I strove for a balanced presentation.  I think this approach made a more profound impact because White people told me they traveled on this train and they always perceived the porters as being happy because they were smiling.

They never knew that all of this was going on.  They thought they had a fabulous job with great uniforms.  It all depends on which perspective you are describing.  My documentary demonstrated the global picture.  There were other people who appreciated the film but who wondered why I had to make it so negative.   Their experiences are probably rooted in the last 15-20 years, but my documentary portrayed the situation over the last 80 years.

P.T.  Can you talk about the creative process and the importance of making a film about Harry Jerome?

S.J.  Harry Jerome was a famous Canadian athlete and more. He used his status for social progress.  He was interested in equal rights for all citizens. His social activism was as important or even more important that his contribution as an athlete.  He used his celebrated status to challenge the system by meeting politicians and other key people.  It was crucial for him to raise issues and questions regarding the lack of representation of minorities in some fields by bringing it to the attention of people in power.

He raised questions by asking such questions as why we never saw Black, Natives or people from other cultures in certain roles.  This aspect was important from an historical perspective. As a result of Jerome’s activism, changes were made.  Fifty years ago, it was almost impossible for minorities to obtain certain kind of jobs in Canada.  We should give Harry Jerome credit that he was the one who initiated challenging the status quo.

Regarding the creative process of the documentary, it is made with the collaboration of Charles Officer, the director.  Harry Jerome has been dead for about 27 years.  It has been a long time and some of the people who knew him died.  Others only knew him by name.  However, the citizens do know about the Harry Jerome Awards.  His name has been used to define these awards to celebrate excellence in Canada in any field such as social work and academics, among others, and not just track and field.

The challenge for us in the making of the documentary is to see which aspects of the story we can use to make sure that people will be able to relate.  It is the approach we took.  In this regard, we are covering the Harry Jerome Awards. People will talk about Jerome’s accomplishments on the track and as a social activist.  In the editing room, we might be focusing on interviews which will highlight the various aspects of his life and his contributions.  We are going to use archived footage of Jerome’s running.  We will have also footage of the Harry Jerome Awards which demonstrates how he will be remembered 25 years after his death.

P.T.  Why was it important for the first shooting of the documentary to take place at the Harry Jerome Awards?

S.J. The reason is that this was the first event to take place when we got the green light from the NFB to make the documentary.  We received the go ahead around January or February.  The awards are held once a year in April.  If we didn’t start shooting in April we would have been obliged to wait another year in order to include this event in our documentary.  It coincided with our schedule to be able to film the event when it was happening.  The next part of the filming will involve interviews with various individuals.

P.T.  You certainly conducted a lot of research into the many aspects of Harry Jerome’s life.  What are the main sources of information used for the production of the documentary?

S.J. We first used the book by Fil Fraser, “Running Uphill”.  There is a lot of research in it.  We obtained the rights to the book.  The director of the documentary went through the book and decided which of the characters will be used in the film.  We began compiling our wish list.  We met some of these people.  We conducted preliminary interviews with them.  There could have been 25 to 30 people mentioned in the book.

During the meeting process, we had to decide how many athletes we were going to use.  How many newspaper reporters do we need to talk to?  Do we need to talk to his mother or other relatives?  Harry Jerome had sisters.  He had a wife and a daughter in Edmonton.  Did we need to speak to them, to his track and field coach or his best friend? He had a nurse.  She was present when Jerome had his seizure.

This professional could be another interesting person to interview.  So, when you speak to those people, you develop a sense of the orientation of the story.  It is a sort of audition process.  We used the primary sources.  We then made a choice of which characters would be most interesting for our thematic approach for the documentary.  There are also individuals who will provide information but who don’t want to be in the film.  We have to respect that.

P.T.  Your partner Charles Officer, director, is quoted in the media as saying that Harry Jerome embodied the perseverance of the human spirit.  This athlete succeeded against all odds.  He continued to sprint successfully until the late 1960s, despite suffering an injury so severe at the Perth Commonwealth Games in 1962.  Doctors initially believed he would never walk again.  Can you talk to us about Jerome’s courage throughout his career and how it is going to be portrayed in your documentary?

S.J. I think the best way we can talk about Harry and his courage would be to go to the people who were very close to him at that point.  Recently, when I was in Toronto, I spoke to his wife.  She was telling me that Harry was scared to go to the hospital when one of his leg muscles needed to be repaired.  That was one of the best stories we are getting regarding this particular injury and the seriousness of it.

We will talk about his courage. The viewers will learn what the medical corps had to say about it.  Dr.  Gillespie performed the surgery on him. I believe that he currently lives in Vancouver.  The director Officer is planning to speak to him.  We will approach his track and field coach.  We also have information from newspaper clippings, footage from Jerome himself.  We are going to get the description of what happened to his leg and what the general consensus was.  In the editing room, we will keep the best part which describes the incident.

When people see what he came back from, I think they will further appreciate how courageous and how brave he was.  After the surgery, the general consensus was that he was not going to be able to walk properly again.  So running was out of the question.  The reality was that Jerome recovered from his injury and participated thereafter in other Olympics.

P.T.  Will you also talk about the fact that some people in the media believed Harry Jerome to be faking his injury?

S.J.  That definitely will be a major part of the Harry Jerome story, because his relationship with the press was not positive. For example, when he was getting ready for a race, a reporter could come up to him and ask him to follow him to another location for an interview.  For Jerome, being there for the race was his priority.  He wanted to win a medal for Canada.  As an athlete, if you had the attitude of:   “I am going to talk to you after the race” as oppose “I will talk to you before the race”, it wasn’t appreciated by some journalists.  At the time, some reporters didn’t understand the perspective of the athletes.

P.T.  They were not aware that before a race you have to be ready physically and mentally.

S.J.  Exactly.  There is physical and mental preparation.  The mental preparation can mean that you want to be left alone, be peaceful and not talk.  You have to prepare yourself psychologically for the race.  There were a lot of misunderstandings with the press.  Harry Jerome’s relationship with the media particularly attracts me in his story.  When I was in University, a teacher showed us footage from the Olympics.

The professor made a reference about Jerome about his difficult relationship with the press.  That got my attention and it stayed with me throughout the years.  The professor based his argument on what he read in newspapers.  The information recycled itself through generations and had you been a student who simply listened to the professor you won’t have known what was behind the story.

P.T.  And I believe this is how propaganda and brainwashing are done.

S.J.  Exactly.  You have to seek the information from every angle to make up your own mind through analysis.  This is my job as a filmmaker.  This is my fascination.  I read and I pick up the nuances.  The Black community realised what was going on and decided to try to correct the situation by founding the Harry Jerome Awards.  For some people he was seen as a failure, but for the Afro-Canadian community he was seen as somebody who was ahead of his time.  His accomplishments were not banal.

The Eastern Canadian press in particular had a bias against Jerome.  He came from BC and nobody knew anything about him.  They felt that he had an arrogant attitude.  They began writing a lot of derogatory things about him.  He never warmed up to the press and vice versa.  What happened was that one person penned a negative article which nobody investigated for the truth.  Many reporters followed suit.

His injuries were genuine.  That is very well documented, so this aspect of his life will definitely be in the documentary.  There are people who are still around and realised that they were mistaken.  We also have archives of Jerome explaining that when he represented Canada he was only 19 years old.

He was young when he went to the Olympics.  It was unrealistic and farfetched to expect a certain type of behaviour and relationship with the press at that age.  It was difficult for him to deal with the aspersions from the press.

P.T.  Was Jerome well surrounded?  Did he have a publicist, for instance?

S.J.  That did not exist in those days.  There was no public relations type of support.  It was a big challenge.  Track and field in the 60’s was not like now.  At present, any international sport has people supporting the athlete.  It was unfortunate that Jerome had to go through problems with the media by himself.   By the time he retired, he became more mature.

P.T.  In your documentary, are we going to learn about who inspired Harry Jerome as an athlete?  Was it for example Ray Lewis, the first Black man who won an Olympic medal for Canada in 1932?   If so, what impact did Lewis have on Jerome as a young athlete?

S.J. The only way I think we can get to that is if we have interviews of him before he died where he spoke about who might have inspired him.  I am sure that Harry Jerome looked in the past to see who represented Canada and Ray Lewis’ name would definitely be on his list.  I doubt however that he would have had a direct influence on him.  There was definitely a connection between him and Percy Williams (the Olympic three times gold medallist).  They became acquainted with one another.

I know for a fact that Jerome looked up to him.  I am less certain about the late Ray Lewis.  The latter was definitely a fascinating character.  I spoke to him once.  He actually worked at one time as a sleeping car porter during the Great Depression.  He held his job at Canadian Pacific Railway for 22 years.  Lewis told me many interesting stories.  For instance, it happened that he would change into his running clothes during stopovers to run alongside the train tracks.  This is how he trained.  This was an amazing story.

He wasn’t paid to practice as an athlete.  When he had some time off from the job, he made time to train.   He came from a more difficult, more challenging time where he was the best runner in the school and yet wasn’t selected to represent his educational establishment.  He was very articulate, eloquent and very smart.  When I spoke to him he had a powerful voice.  In my opinion, his story is as important as Harry Jerome’s.

P.T.  Regarding Harry Jerome, I guess that his coach would know for sure who inspired him.

S.J. Yes, definitely.  It was in our plan to interview him on that topic. His coach was John Minichiello.  We spoke to him and I believe we are going to get a sense of who inspired Jerome.  John is just a couple of years older than Jerome.  He enjoyed coaching.  I could add that the athlete Paul Winn who was a friend of Harry’s might also know who inspired him.

P.T.  Harry Jerome wore many hats in his life.  What are the main areas which will be covered in the documentary?

S.J.  The director will be looking mainly at his role as an athlete between 1960 and 1968, before he retired.  He will look into his accomplishments, his injuries, and his relationship with the media, how he was able to come back and represent Canada when everybody thought his career was over.

More than 60 percent of the documentary will be about his role as an international athlete.  He later began working for the federal government, going to schools as a motivational speaker and so forth.  He became a role model in the track and field domain.  Between 1968 and 1982 it was important for him to raise the bar for visible minorities in Canada.

That part of his life is not documented visually so we will have to interview people for it.  This component will be shown through the Harry Jerome Awards.  This award which celebrates excellence is the kind of manifestation he would have supported had he lived.

P.T.  Can you tell us the main periods that the documentary will chronicle about Jerome’s life?  For example, will the viewers learn about the latter part of Jerome’s life when he was invited by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to help create Canada’s new Ministry of Sport?

S.J. We will not chronicle the part where Jerome was invited by former Prime Minister Trudeau to create the new Ministry of Sport.  There are so many aspects to Jerome’s life and we had to make choices.  People can get further information from the book “Running Uphill”.  We decided that for the documentary, we will concentrate on his peak years between 1960 and 1968.  It will give more focus than if we were to talk about his entire life.  As a filmmaker, you have to cover your bases and you have a lot of material.  But when you get to the editing part, you don’t have a choice but to focus primarily on the main themes.  We have to avoid repetitions.

P.T.  You mentioned earlier that Harry Jerome fought for equal opportunities for minorities.  To what extent would you qualify him as an activist for this reason?

S.J. Harry Jerome was ahead of his time.  He was very sensitive to what was happening to the society at the time.  There are people who are very successful as athletes and stay in this arena.  Jerome went beyond that.  He was interested in people getting jobs and opportunities.  He didn’t shy away from that responsibility.  He recognized that there were people who were not treated equally and he used his status to challenge this.  He made it known to society and he was a champion of human rights.

P.T.  It was difficult in Jerome’s era financially to be an amateur athlete.  There were no scholarships and so forth.  Do you think that Harry Jerome became a great activist and a pioneer who helped advance this issue? Will we learn about this in the documentary?

S.J. We will learn about it in the interviews from him after his retirement.   One of the reasons he became successful as an athlete was because he accepted a scholarship from the US to attend the University of Oregon.  This had its good and its bad side.  He had to go to Oregon and represent this state through the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) in the track and field domain.

Afterwards, he had to go back to Canada and represent his country through the Canadian games, the PANAM games.  It was difficult for him because although he had to represent Canada, people didn’t fund his development as an athlete.  So, his primarily obligations were to the University of Oregon.  When he retired, he made recommendations regarding what should be done to improve the funding of Canadian athletes.  He talked about the necessity of scholarships.

Later on, Canadian universities started giving scholarships, but nothing close to the level of the United States at the time.  I consider him as a pioneer because he was trying to implement a better system to support the athletes through coaching, etc.  Before, athletes didn’t have easy access to a physiotherapist, a masseur, or other such professionals.  If there were any, there might have been only one of them overseas for the entire Canadian team.  With time, things have evolved significantly.

P.T.  Now they have physicians, more coaches, and other such professionals.

S.J.  Exactly.  In the documentary we will talk about the pioneer work with footage from Jerome and his wife, whom he met at the University of Oregon.  They were both in the United States at the same time.  So, we will have an interesting comparative analysis between the Canadian and the American system from that era.  We will definitely get that perspective.

P.T.  What advice can you give to young people who want to become a filmmaker and a producer?

S.J.  If you want to become a filmmaker, I think that you have to follow your inner conviction that tells you inside that this is what you want to do.  You have to be bold and brave enough to pursue your goal.  I think a beginner should start with a short documentary.  The quality has nothing to do with the length of the movie.  It can be a ten minute film.  With a short film, it is possible to get the credit as a producer.  When I started as a producer, I had to hire camera people and so on. I encourage young people to pick a subject that they are very passionate about and make a short film.  They have to allow themselves to make mistakes in the beginning.  It is like that for everybody; it is not going to be perfect.

About the qualities required in filmmaking, I can talk to young people about the importance of getting an education. This allows you to have an excellent basis.  The fact that I went to university gave me assurance to approach people who have an important impact in the decision making to finance my movie, for instance.  You have to sell your movie as a producer.  So, I had the knowledge to be cognizant of what a good story was, an excellent script, etc.  I went to university and I also had a fascination with history.

Often my films have an historical basis.  However, it is not necessarily everybody who wants to be a filmmaker who needs to have a love for history.  I think you should have a love and a passion for literature, or some other aspects of the art.  A lot of people in this business talk about the camera, high definition, etc.  They talk more about the technical aspects and the tools.  I find that they don't pay enough attention to the content, which is of utmost importance.  I try to look at where I got my influences and inspirations.

I find that I like to read literature.  It is important as a filmmaker because the content needs to be documented.  You need a source which will make you connect with people as a filmmaker.  It can be about poetry, music, drama and so on.  As a producer, you need chemistry and a good rapport with the people you are working with.  You need to connect with the all the individuals who will decide to finance the movie.  They have to like what you are doing and good social skills are required.

People need to feel that you treat them right.  When you have a good product, people will hear about it.  When you become a well known and established filmmaker you don’t need to market it like before.  The people in the film industry will approach you.  The calls come naturally.  Quality is the key.  The relationship you have with people is very important.  In the end, the film becomes a reflection of that relationship.

I want young people to know that they should not be discouraged if they choose a field which is not common.  I strongly recommend that they find a mentor or speak to people who work in their field of interest because they are well placed to give good advice. I really think that people should follow their hearts. It is important to be focussed. You have to know what you want. You need to have an open mind.  In other words, nobody is right all the time, so it is important to be open to constructive criticism.  This is how you evolve professionally.

P.T.  Thank you, Mr. Jacob, for telling us about our Afro-Canadian heroes and for keeping their stories alive!

The statue of Harry Jerome in Stanley Park (Vancouver) 

Harry Jerome in brief[2]:

Athletic achievements:

March 13, 1959:  Jerome equals the Canadian icon Percy Williams for the 100-yard dash with 10 seconds flat at the North Vancouver High School

July 18, 1959: In Winnipeg (Manitoba) Jerome wins the Canadian championship in the 100-metres race with a time of 10.4 seconds

June 15, 1962:  In Alberta, Jerome reaches the U.S.  National Collegiate Athletic Association record for 220 yards with a time of 20.7 seconds

August 8, 1964:  In St-Lambert (Quebec), Jerome wins the Canadian Track and Field Championship in the 100 metres with a time of 10.6 seconds

Olympic Games



1964 Tokyo October 15

100 metres

Pan American Games



1967 Winnipeg July 31

100 metres

August 31, 1969:  In Victoria (BC), Jerome repeats as Canadian 100-metres champion with a time of 10.5 seconds.   This became the last Jerome’s official competition.

Height:  5’11

Weight:  190


Teaching Certification, August 1968, University of British Columbia

MSc Physical Education, July 1968, University of Oregon

BSc Physical Education, July 1964, University of Oregon


- Harry Jerome was a math and science teacher for the Richmond School Board from 1964 until 1965

- Jerome was a physical education teacher from 1965 until 1968 for the Vancouver School Board

- Jerome worked for fitness and amateur sport in 1972 and also as a sport researcher from 1968 until 1969

Additional information:

- Harry Jerome received accolades from fans around the world and from the former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson (Nobel Peace recipient, 1957) during a 1967 Centennial year event

- After Jerome’s retirement in 1969, the Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invited him to help create Canada’s new ministry of sport

- Every year since 1983, the BBPA[3] (http://www.bbpa.org/) grants the Harry Jerome Awards to qualifying members of the Black Canadian population.

- A statue in Stanley Park (Vancouver) has been erected in honour of Harry Jerome on May 28th 1988

- A request in 2001 was officially made to name a street in the North of Vancouver after Harry Jerome.

- In 2001 Jerome was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

To order Mighty Jerome visit:  http://www.onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/collection/film/?id=58795

Mr.  Jacob's Education:

B.Ed., University of Alberta (1970)

MSc.  Film, University of S.  Californica (1975)


We remember Amber valley (1984)

The Saint from North Battleford (1989)

Carol’s Mirror (1991)

Al Tasmim (1995)

The Road Taken (1996)

John McCrae’s war:  In Flanders Fields (1998)

Yuxweluptun:  Man of Masks (1998)

Jeni LeGon:  Living in a Great Big Way (1999)

Java Jive (1999)

T’Lina:  The Rendering of Wealth (1999)

Nuclear Dynamite (2000)

Between the laughter (2000)

Britannia:  a company town (2000)

Beaverbrook:  The Various Lives of Max Aitken (2000)

When a Child Goes Missing (2000)

Obaachan’s Garden (2001)

Letters from home (2001)

The Journey of Lesra Martin (2002)

A tribe of One (2003)

From Harling Point (2003)

When Hockey came to Belfast (2004)

My father, my teacher (2005)

Between the laughter (educational version) (2006)

Mighty Jerome (2010)

Several Awards in Canada and in the US:

Best educational award, Birmingham for Carol’s Mirror (1993)

Golden apple award, Oakland for Carol’s Mirror(1993)

Kathleen Shannon award and Best Documentary for The Road Taken (1997)

The John Ware Lifetime Memorial Award from the Black Achievement Awards Society of Alberta (1997)

Premiers award of excellence, for work with Alberta Curriculum Standards Branch (1998)

The prestigious Gemini Award for The Road Taken (1998)

Michael Blaustein Biography award for Jeni LeGon, Pittsburg (1999)

Famous quotes from Fil Fraser’s book Running Uphill:

“Harry Jerome is Canada’s Jessie Owens.  He faced the same battles in his time as Jessie did.  Frankly, Harry Jerome’s face should be on a dollar bill.  He should be a national hero for what he went through”, Donovan Bailey, five-time world and Gold Olympic champion

“Harry Jerome was, of course, a great athlete.  When I watched Harry run, it seemed as if he was floating”, John Braithwaite, former city councillor, City of North Vancouver

“Harry Jerome’s life has the earmarks of many powerful stories-he wins our hearts, he breaks out hearts and he dies too soon”, Cheryl Foggo, author, filmmaker and historian


[1] Harry Jerome is an NFB (National Film Board of Canada) production. The National Film Board of Canada marks its 70th anniversary in 2009 with a new national online Screening Room and a slate of bold, innovative productions. The NFB produces and distributes social-issue documentaries, alternative drama and others. The projects have contents that provide the world with a unique Canadian perspective. Since the NFB's founding in 1939, it has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies. To watch over 1000 productions online or for more information, go to www.nfb.ca

[2] Source:  Running Uphill by Fil Fraser

[3] The Black Business and Professionals Association