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James MacSwain (b.1945)

James MacSwain

Still from the film Fountain of Youth, 2010, directed by James MacSwain
10 minutes

For more than four decades James MacSwain has been a mainstay of the Halifax (and Nova Scotia) independent film community, producing his first professional film, Atomic Dragons, in 1981. He has been active in the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative since 1979, and he was instrumental in the founding of the Centre for Art Tapes, where he was a long-time administrator. MacSwain’s background in theatre, particularly in puppet theatre (he was artistic director of the Gargoyle Puppet Troupe from 1974 to 1978) led him to stop-motion animation, the form he still practices.

 

Still from the film Amherst, 1984, directed by James MacSwain, 12 minutes.
Still of James MacSwain from the film Celestial Queer, 2023, directed by Eryn Foster and Sue Johnson, 72 minutes.

In his semi-autobiographical film from 1984, Amherst, James MacSwain takes the viewer on a tour of his hometown, Amherst, Nova Scotia. MacSwain, who came out as queer in this small Maritime town, delivers a deadpan inventory (or, as one writer suggested, an “autopsy) of a place that could not have been an easy home for a young gay man. Amherst, he says, was “a redneck town with one overriding rule: A man was master, and all others were inferior.  Nonetheless, MacSwain ends the narration with characteristic gentleness and generosity: “This film is a personal narrative… and cannot be trusted.

 

In 2011 MacSwain was featured in the Canadian Artist Spotlight at the twenty-fourth Images Festival in Toronto. That same year he was awarded Nova Scotia’s Portia White Prize, an award that recognizes both artistic excellence and community involvement. In 2023 a documentary on his life and work, Celestial Queer, was released, directed by Eryn Foster and Sue Johnson.