Steve Gravestock on Insightful Filmmaker, Deepa Mehta!

Steve Gravestock on Insightful Filmmaker, Deepa Mehta!

Deepa Mehta's works will be showcased at TIFF Cinematheque under the banner “Heaven on Earth”. speaks to TIFF programmer, Steve Gravestock.

TIFF Cinematheque is a world-renowned screening programme devoted to the presentation, understanding and appreciation of Canadian and international cinema through carefully curated programming.


Renowned for such films as Fire, Earth, Water, and her epic adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Deepa Mehta receives a TIFF Cinematheque salute with this retrospective.

Read below what Steve Gravestock had to say to about Deepa Mehta and her series.

cb5c988a5b5f301e13a7f8a45e40a138What criteria does TIFF use to decide when establishing/curating a retrospective series on a filmmaker? 

There are lots of criteria. Most frequently, we’d probably be looking for a large, significant body of work which has had an impact aesthetically, historically, and socially. Deepa has of course an extensive body of work in a wide variety of genres, dealing with a wide swath of key issues both in Canada (SAM AND ME and HEAVEN ON EARTH remain two of the best films about newcomers to Canada) and internationally (EARTH; WATER; and MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN deal with Partition, one of the most important historical events post World War II). Her films have been celebrated around the world and she’s the only Canadian woman director to have a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

You have been quoted referring to Deepa Mehta as the most insightful, persistent and courageous social critic in Canadian cinema: how so?

Mehta has consistently and courageously looked at and criticized how we mistreat outsiders or those who are powerless, from the disenfranchised, mistreated or neglected women in WATER; HEAVEN ON EARTH and FIRE to the two men who form a unique bond in SAM AND ME. She’s looked at the plight of the aged (SAM AND ME; CAMILLA and even BEEBA BOYS); in BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD, she used comedy to look at the sometimes divided mindset of a second generation immigrant family who are part of two worlds. In all of these films she expresses sympathy for those who don’t necessarily have voices or the opportunity to speak — sometimes speaking uncomfortable truths others don’t necessarily want to hear. This is pretty much the textbook definition of an artist, painting humanist portraits of those others would dehumanize. It’s what separates them from politicians, well some politicians, those who would divide rather than unite. An artist like Deepa Mehta looks at complexities and subtleties instead of sound bytes and slogans.


What issues do you think filmmakers in Canada need to tackle?

The most important thing any Canadian filmmaker can do is tell our own stories. Sometimes these are international tales about where we came from and the ties we have to other countries and cultures. I think it was the BC based filmmaker Carl Bessai who said that if we don’t tell our own stories someone will tell them for us.
An artist like Deepa Mehta looks at complexities and subtleties instead of sound bytes and slogans. 


Which of Deepa Mehta’s works is your personal favourite and why?

My favourite is EARTH, partly because of its epic scope and its amazing cast, but I was also really blown away by HEAVEN ON EARTH. Also really think SAM AND ME holds up beautifully, and I enjoyed the spirit of BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD, and I loved the way she shot Toronto in REPUBLIC OF LOVE.


What reaction are you hoping to elicit/provoke from Canadian audiences with the Deepa Mehta retrospective series?

I think we’re essentially paying tribute to one of our best filmmakers, but I would hope people would get a sense of what an extraordinary body of work she’s created, her courage, her wide range of interests, and the depth of her craft. In a retro like this, you really get a sense of certain trends and moments in her work. I don’t think any Canadian actress has gotten the movie star treatment Mehta gave Lisa Ray in BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD and even in WATER, almost miraculously using it to give the story weight and urgency but without obscuring the political and social importance of the story. And that kind of thing is sometimes too absent in Canadian films.


If you had to compare Deepa Mehta’s works to a non-Canadian filmmaker, who would you pick?

Obviously, she shares a real affinity with the great master Satyajit Ray, but frankly I’d actually also compare her to legendary American indys like John Sayles and Victor Nunez — or maybe the great Australian director Gillian Armstrong. Mehta has always shown a real curiosity in what’s happening now, in capturing the world around her — but hasn’t been tied to specific genres or styles.


For more information on ‘Heaven on Earth’ the films of Deepa Mehta, please click HERE

If you wish to see Deepa Mehta on stage, please click HERE.

About Steve Gravestock

Steve Gravestock was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and grew up in Burlington and Mississauga. In high school he spent a year in a mining town called Logan’s Lake, an hour outside of Kamloops in the B.C. interior. He got his first job in Toronto at the Eaton Centre Cineplex, the day after John Lennon was shot.