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'Celestial Queer': grad Eryn Foster is filming iconic artist James MacSwain

A crowdfunding effort could land her doc in the festival circuit this fall
January 9, 2020
By Richard Burnett

At Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, filming Celestial Queer At Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, filming Celestial Queer (from left): co-directors Sue Johnson and Eryn Foster, filmmaker Michael Fuller, James MacSwain with friend, renowned curator Robin Metcalfe | Photo courtesy of Eryn Foster

When Halifax-based artist and curator Eryn Foster, BFA 97, decided that the life and work of James (Jim) MacSwain needed to be documented, she suddenly found herself in a new role: that of filmmaker.

MacSwain, an iconic queer artist and activist in Nova Scotia, is the subject of Celestial Queer: The Life, Work and Wonder of James MacSwain, a film co-directed by Foster and Sue Johnson.

Production on the documentary began in 2014 with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Film Board of Canada and the Linda Joy Media Arts Society. The film wrapped principal photography with more than 40 hours of footage and Foster and Johnson have launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund post-production. Their goal is to raise $30,000 by Jan. 14.

Celestial Queer will not only contextualize MacSwain's work and legacy, the filmmakers say, but will also “illuminate the largely unrepresented history of both media arts and queer culture in Atlantic Canada.”

Eryn Foster, BFA 97 Eryn Foster at Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, filming Celestial Queer

Why did you decide to make this film?

Eryn Foster: Initially I tried to get other people to make [it] because I was not a filmmaker at the time and I felt someone really needed to make a film about Jim. Then I decided to go ahead and do it myself. My friend Sue Johnson — who had just completed her MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University — came on board as co-director. Sue was also a big fan of Jim, who has been such an important person in the arts and queer communities.

James MacSwain’s art and activism dates back to the 1970s.

EF: One of the things we realized interviewing Jim’s friends and colleagues for this film is the important work Jim also did during the AIDS crisis, something that many people today are not aware of. Jim is an amazing survivor with a tremendous resilient nature who changed the minds of a lot of people. This film aims to fill in the gaps in history that some people have forgotten.

Your crowdfunding campaign ends on January 14.

We have already received several donations and are very appreciative. Anything else we are able to raise will help us complete the film. Ideally, if all goes well, and we are able to get the funding in place, we are hoping to get the film in festivals in the fall of 2020.

How did your time at Concordia help shape you and your career?

I came from small-town Ontario. In many ways, Montreal was the first big city I lived in and that drew me to Concordia. Being in a big-city university, there was a lot of diversity, people from all cultures. I had some great professors and I met some really incredible people who have remained in my life as friends and mentors. Doing my BFA at Concordia was an introduction to the many ways one could be an artist and also live as an artist.

Donate to the Celestial Queer Indiegogo campaign.

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