Documentaries Put Life in the Spotlight
“I’ve always known that I wanted to get into documentary filmmaking,” says Adamm Liley, BA ’95. “When I took a film course at Guelph, that really drove it home for me.” So what is it about documentaries that he finds so appealing? “Everything I read is nonfiction; everything I watch is primarily nonfiction. I just love the stories that already exist.”
Liley also enjoys working with real-life characters. In his 2003 documentary, Come on Down: Searching for the American Dream, he painted a Canadian flag on a Cadillac and drove it across the United States for seven weeks. Friends and colleagues thought he was crazy, but he says the painted Cadillac “was the light that would draw the characters to me. People would see the car and react in one way or another.”
His childhood was the inspiration behind the documentary. “Being a border child growing up, I had this fascination with everything American,” says Liley. “I could get candy and fireworks and TV shows I couldn’t get in Canada. It just seemed like an incredible place when you’re 10 years old.”
Liley isn’t afraid of taboo subjects like death. In That’s My Time, he filmed Canadian comic Irwin Barker, who went on a cross-Canada comedy tour after being diagnosed with cancer and given one year to live. Barker died in 2010, three years after his diagnosis.
As an undergrad at Guelph, Liley enjoyed being a liberal arts student. “The best part for me was that I was able to pick from so many different areas.” He took courses ranging from entomology to genetics and nutrition to the history of religion. “I love that I didn’t have to specialize. I was able to get this really well-rounded education.” He also spent a semester in Krakow, Poland, as part of the semester abroad program.
After graduating from Guelph, Liley worked for a few years before enrolling in a two-year film production program at Confederation College in Halifax, N.S. The film community in Halifax was smaller and less cutthroat than Toronto, which opened doors for him to write for hows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Trailer Park Boys and Street Cents.
Now a professor in the advanced filmmaking postgraduate program at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., Liley begins each term by asking his students where they see themselves in the next five to 10 years. Most of them want to be directors, but he says that’s unrealistic. “It’s like the military: they don’t make you a general right away. You have to work as a production assistant and you have to work in the trenches.”