Hot Docs 2011: ‘Mighty Jerome’

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Mighty Jerome

Directed by Charles Officer

2011, Canada, 83 mins.

Harry Jerome is no longer a household name, but he was once one of Canada’s most famous athletes, owing to the fact that he was breaking track and field records at a time when Canada hadn’t really had any running stars. Despite holding world records, Jerome’s performance at several Olympics were disappointing and once resulted in a shorn muscle, an injury so severe that doctors thought that he would never walk again. Reviled by the Toronto press, Jerome made a comeback in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This documentary portrayal of Harry Jerome’s life (based on Fil Fraser’s biography of Jerome, Running Uphill) is everything you’d expect from a sports film made in memory of a faded star.

Shot in black and white, Mighty Jerome is a mix of archival footage, interviews, and re-enactments. Whilst the re-enactments are a bit disappointing, the interview footage is fairly interesting. Director Charles Officer shot the interviews (with Jerome’s family, friends, and track and field contemporaries) in recreations of museum installations based on Jerome’s life. It’s a neat effect – we get the sense that the film is part of the museum exhibit itself. However, Jerome’s sister Valerie (a track and field star in her own right) is notably absent from the film, lending to an unfortunate sense of doubt respecting the portrayal of Jerome. By no means is this film a puff piece, full of fawning praise. That said, the tone of the film is frequently eulogic, leaving one to wonder how close we are getting to the real Harry Jerome.

My criticisms aside, I found Mighty Jerome to be a genuinely interesting and compelling documentary. I can appreciate a film that can deflate some of our pleasant illusions about Canada’s much-vaunted racial tolerance, and I can appreciate Officer’s attempt to memorialize an athlete that shouldn’t be forgotten.

– Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8th.

Visit the official website for the festival.

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