Independent filmmaker Mort Ransen reached the zenith of his film career with Marguerite Museum, a 1995 feature film that he co-wrote and directed. The Anglo-Canadian co-production won six Genie Awards as well as a nomination for Best Picture with an additional nod to Mr. Ransen and his co-writer, Gerald Wexler, for Best Screenplay.
Set in a mining town in Nova Scotia in the 1940s, the film stars Kate Nelligan and Helena Bonham Carter as a mother and daughter living with daily fear that their loved ones will be killed or injured. . Softly romantic, but darkly disturbing, the film garnered three and a half out of four stars from acclaimed critic Roger Ebert. Mr. Ebert wrote: “Marguerite Museum is one of those almost perfect little movies that you know, seeing it, is absolutely one of a kind.
Coming from the theater world, Mr. Ransen learned the essentials of cinema at the National Film Board (NFB). There he was free to experiment, sometimes putting cameras in the hands of other people if he felt the story was theirs to document, rather than his own to tell it. Fifteen of his 17 NFB films, including one about legendary Manitoba Theater Center co-founder John Hirsch, have received international awards. While intense focus on a task could make Mr. Ransen seem distracted at times, he was somewhat of a creative chameleon with a knack for catching the zeitgeist.
On September 4, at the age of 88, with his body and cognitive functions in decline, Mr. Ransen chose medically assisted dying (MAID) over an existence he could no longer be in. what he had always been: a storyteller.
“He felt a strong responsibility for his ending,” said Libby Mason, theater director and Mr. Ransen’s partner for 21 years. Prior to his relationship with Ms Mason, Mr Ransen had married twice and had four children.
His adult children and their partners, along with a few close friends, were with him at Lady Minto / Gulf Islands Hospital on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia when he passed away.
“Once he made his decision and informed his loved ones, he seemed lighter, happier. He wanted these people to be present as witnesses until the end because he saw himself as an advocate for AMM, ”Ms. Mason said. “He was grateful that he was available as an option to suffering.”
Mr. Ransen was born Moishe Socoransky on August 16, 1933 in Montreal to Ukrainian immigrants. He was the youngest of four children in the Yiddish-speaking family of Shimmel and Fanny (née Bordoff) Socoransky. Mr. Socoransky was highly regarded in his community as a scholar and political expert, even though he rejected Judaism and became a Communist.
Mort was not an enthusiastic student at Baron Byng High School in Montreal, but he did pay attention to an English teacher who suggested he pursue an acting career. He left school after grade 9 and worked in various jobs before taking a methodical acting training with Peggy Feury, a highly regarded teacher in New York City.
In 1961, while Mr. Ransen was earning his living as an actor and director at the Montreal theater, he was approached by someone from the NFB and offered him a job. In a segment of an NFB retrospective entitled Make the history of cinema, Mr Ransen said he didn’t know anything about cinema but received extraordinary training at the agency as an assistant director and assistant editor. The films used for teaching were military training films, something he found hilarious because he said, “I was an avowed pacifist.
As soon as he acquired sufficient skills, he was allowed to make his own short films. A title No reason to stay, dealt with dropping out of school and was the first of his films to cause trouble for the NFB: it was widely interpreted as a government body recommending dropping out of school. “It wasn’t about that at all,” Ransen said. “It was to emphasize that there was a lot about schools at the time that needed to change.”
As the 1960s progressed, the NFB felt that the emerging “peace, love and protest” hippie culture in the Yorkville area of Toronto should be documented. Mr. Ransen arranged for the Kodak company to provide 50 cameras to the students and, in the spirit of democracy, let them decide what to film.
Mr. Ransen found their decision-making process fascinating and hired an NFB team to record it. The result was Christopher’s movie morning (1968), a 90-minute film-in-a-movie that combined professional and amateur footage.
It also caused embarrassment to the NFB when CBC television reported that 60 youths had been arrested during a sit-in in Toronto and that police were investigating a possible link between hippie activity and the presence of the hippie. ‘an ONF team. The implication was that the crew could have made the participants resist arrest for filming purposes.
The Globe and Mail went even further with a landmark front-page headline: “Film Committee’s Role in Hippie Events Revealed. Mr. Ransen included these reports in the film. He said, in front of the camera, “I was ordered to pack my bags and leave town.” A skeptical teenager asks, “Do you think you can make a movie out of this?” The final plan is Mr. Ransen’s response: “I don’t know.”
Mr. Ransen left the NFB in 1984 and made the transition to film and television directing. After several feature films and an episode of Legal Street, Mr. Ransen stumbled upon Sheldon Currie’s novel Glace Bay Mining Museum. The rights were optional, the title became Marguerite Museum and Mr. Ransen and Mr. Drexler set out to write a screenplay. With the funding in place, Mr Ransen traveled to Britain to persuade Helena Bonham Carter to play the lead role. She loved him very much. He hung out with his large and rather eccentric family in London and is said to have flirted with Ms Carter’s grandmother.
Vic Sarin, one of the best Canadian filmmakers of the time, was the eye behind the lens of Marguerite Museum. He observed that Mr. Ransen was a stubborn man who also knew how to deal with actors when they brought instincts and opinions to their role. “First he gave in to them, then asked what he needed,” Sarin said. “He was always confident that he could fix things in the edit suite.”
Despite the success of Marguerite Museum in North America, the co-production agreement gives UK co-producers the right to edit their own version. “Helena received a terrible review in Britain because they cut the build-up that explained who she was. She just appeared like a crazy woman,” Ms. Mason said. “Even today if you order the movie online, you could get the UK version. ”Death was exasperated.
After Marguerite MuseumMr. Ransen retired from filmmaking to live as a self-proclaimed hippie on Salt Spring Island. He occasionally performed in theater roles before returning to public attention in 2001 with his directing, writing and storytelling of Ah … Money, Money, Money. It was a report on a forest war in Salt Spring, a place he liked to call “my island”. Initially, Ms. Mason had been impressed with an invitation to visit before realizing that the island was not really her personal property.
During MAID, as a doctor struggled to fix an uncooperative orifice that would allow drugs to be delivered into Mr Ransen’s vein, Ms Mason held her partner’s hand. Mr. Ransen’s last words, after the adjustment was made, were, “Take two.”
Mr. Ransen leaves Ms. Mason, along with her children, Chaya, Yoshi, Joshua and Hannah, and four grandchildren.
Editor’s Note: The co-author of Margaret’s Museum is Gerald Wexler, not Gerald Drexler as published in an earlier version.