Kevin McMahon (filmmaker)

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Kevin McMahon
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  • Documentary Filmmaker
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Kevin McMahon is a Canadian documentary writer, director and producer. He is a founding partner at Primitive Entertainment, a Toronto production company specializing in documentary film, television and interactive media.

Early career

McMahon began his career as a newspaper journalist at the St. Catharines Standard.[1] There, he was awarded a top prize from the Canadian Centre for Investigative Journalism and a nomination for a Governor General's Award for public service journalism.[2][3] In 1985 he shifted his focus to documentary film, and is now regarded as one of Canada's most innovative directors.[4] Of his first feature documentary, The Falls, the late Jay Scott wrote: “the film intermarries the naturally sacred and the unnaturally profane with breathtaking dexterity”. Over the next 25 years, the contrasting of sacred and profane, serious and comic, beautiful imagery and raw documentary became the hallmark of McMahon's non-fiction style.


McMahon has degrees from Brock University and Carleton University and a Certificate In Radio, Television And Film from the University of Bristol in England.[5]


McMahon's work focuses on environmental themes, specifically subjects like Arctic climate change, toxins in Niagara Falls,[6] the collapse of the cod fishery, the scourge of nuclear weapons, and stories about the guru Marshall McLuhan, Haida and Inuit communities, or the nature of human intelligence. He has filmed worldwide in places such as the Sahara, the deserts of Jordan and Iran, the north Atlantic, Galapagos Islands, Canada's maritime coasts, the Boreal forest, the Ecuadorian jungle and the high Arctic. McMahon has collaborated with the late rock musician Gord Downie on the film Waterlife,[7][8] cellist Yo-Yo Ma,[9] actress Sarah Polley,[10] comedian Mary Walsh (actress)[10] and astronaut Roberta Bondar.[11]

McMahon's most recent work as a director is Borealis[12], a feature documentary about the boreal forest, selected for Hot Docs 2020.[13][14][15] He was also the writer, co-director and producer behind the 12-hour series Equator: A New World View, about climate change in the tropics[16] and, as producer and writer, helped shape the international current affairs documentary In Search of a Perfect World, about the global quest for human rights.[17] He directed the feature documentary Spaceship Earth, an international coproduction which was a Special Presentation at Hot Docs in 2016.[18] McMahon previously directed more than 20 documentaries and produced hundreds of hours of non-fiction television, including the 10-hour series The Polar Sea, Canada's first long-form documentary series.[19] The project, about climate change in the Arctic, included the companion Polar Sea 360, the world's first full-length Virtual Reality documentary. The project, to quote The Toronto Star, “instantly stands as one of the landmarks in the long and rich history of Canadian documentary filmmaking."[20]

As a producer, some of McMahon's TV work includes: Working Over Time, a four-hour history of the nation's manual labourers;[21] Canadian Made, a 14-part series about technological inventions; An Idea of Canada, chronicling a Vice Royal visit to tiny aboriginal communities; and The National Parks Project, a 26-part television, music and film series, that McMahon co-produced and co-directed, contributing the short film Standing Wave, featuring Shad (rapper), shot on the Nahanni River.

McMahon has written for POV Magazine,[22] Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, HuffPost and CBC Radio’s Ideas.[23] He is the author of Arctic Twilight[24], about the impact of the Cold War on the Inuit. Most recently he wrote several articles arguing for the recognition of documentary as Canada’s only non-aboriginal indigenous art form.

As a story editor, McMahon helped shape Alan Zweig’s feature documentaries Coppers (film), There Is a House Here, A Hard Name, Lovable and I, Curmudgeon; Jay Cheel’s Beauty Day and How To Build A Time Machine and Nicholas de Pencier’s Four Wings and a Prayer. McMahon is a frequent guest in film classes and works with younger filmmakers, both informally and through cultural institutions. He has been a mentor in programs run by Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and the Documentary Organization of Canada. Most recently McMahon worked with the Canadian Film Centre/National Film Board of Canada as the mentor on Sarah Polley’s debut documentary, Stories We Tell.


Among his awards as director, writer or producer, McMahon is the recipient of several Canadian Screen Awards, a Webby Award, an Interactive award from the South by Southwest Festival, the Earth Prize from the Tokyo International Film Festival,[25] a Special Jury Prize from Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival,[26] and the designation of Canadian Eco Hero by the Planet in Focus’ film festival.[27] The Canadian Film Institute and Hot Docs have both held retrospectives of his work.


Year Title Contribution
2020 Borealis[28] Director
2020 Writing the Land Producer
2019 The Forest of the North Director
2019 Coppers (film) Producer
2018 In Search of a Perfect World Producer/Writer
2018 Equator: A New World View Writer/Co-Director/Producer
2017 There Is a House Here Producer
2016 Spaceship Earth Director
2015 Spaceship Earth: The Fuel

Spaceship Earth: The Navigators

Spaceship Earth: The Engines

Spaceship Earth: The Passenger Cabins

Spaceship Earth: The Flight Crew

2014 The Polar Sea Writer/Co-Director
2013 Canadian Famous Director
2011 Canadian Made Producer
2010 The National Parks Project Co-Producer/Co-Director
2011 Standing Wave Director
2009 Waterlife[8] Director
2008 Working Over Time Producer
2005 The Face of Victory Director
2004 Stolen Spirits of Haida Gwaii Director
2003 An Idea of Canada Director
2002 McLuhan's Wake[29] Director
2002 The Decent Into The Maelstrom Director
2002 Gooney Tunes Co-Director
2000 Cod: The Fish That Changed the World Director
2000 Lifting The Shadow Director
1999 Truth Merchants Director
1998 Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by Bach: The Music Garden Director
1997 Intelligence Director
1994 In The Reign Of Twilight Director
1990 The Falls Director
1987 The Chance Director
1986 The Zoo Director


  1. "Michener Awards Foundation | Winner of 1985 Michener Honourable Mention – St. Catharines Standard". Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  2. "Elmvale Water Festival". Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  3. Board, National Film (2021-01-15). "World premiere of Borealis December 15, 2020, on TVO, and By acclaimed Primitive Entertainment in a special co-presentation by the NFB and TVO". gcnws. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  4. "Kevin McMahon and Michael McMahon - Arts and Culture Wall of Fame - City of Niagara Falls". City of Niagara Falls Website. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  5. "2007 Focus On Kevin McMahon - Hot Docs". Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  6. Head, Live Music. "The Falls: a cautionary tale". Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  7. "Waterlife". May 2, 2009 – via IMDb.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Canada, National Film Board of, Waterlife, retrieved 2021-03-05
  9. Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by Bach (1997) - Kevin McMahon | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie, retrieved 2021-01-19
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wiesner, Darren (2021-01-07). "Talent On Tap – Kevin McMahon Translates Borealis". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  11. "Kevin McMahon's Spaceship Earth: Climate change interview". Monsters and Critics. 2016-07-23. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  12. Toronto, Point of View Magazine • 392-401 Richmond Street West •; email, ON • M5V 3A8 • Canada •701-8505 • Send us an. "A Walk in the Woods with Borealis's Kevin McMahon – Point of View Magazine". Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  13. "Borealis". Hot Docs. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  14. "Borealis". Hot Docs. Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  15. "World premiere of Borealis December 15, 2020, on TVO, and". Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  16. "Animal Planet | Watch Full Episodes and Clips". Discovery. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  17. "In Search of a Perfect World | CBC Documentaries". CBC. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  18. "Spaceship Earth - Hot Docs". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  19. "The Polar Sea: An Amazing Odyssey". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  20. "The Polar Sea is an epic, educational documentary series on the Northwest Passage". 2014-11-30. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  21. Media, Pennant. "Jeff Douglas hosts Working Over Time, a week-long special series on History Television – Pennant Media Group". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  22. Toronto, Point of View Magazine • 392-401 Richmond Street West •; email, ON • M5V 3A8 • Canada •701-8505 • Send us an. "Articles by Kevin McMahon – Point of View Magazine". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  23. "2007 Focus On Kevin McMahon - Hot Docs". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  24. "Arctic Twilight - Reflections on the Destiny of Canada's Northern Land and People". Lorimer. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  25. November 1, Brendan Christie; 2010. "McMahon takes Tokyo". Retrieved 2021-01-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. "2009 Awards - Hot Docs". Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  27. "Director Kevin McMahon named Planet in Focus' Canadian Eco Hero". Hye's Musings. 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  28. "New documentary about Canada's boreal forest reveals how it's in trouble, director says | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  29. Government of Canada, National Film Board of Canada (2012-10-11). "National Film Board of Canada". Retrieved 2021-01-19.

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