Story is Still King: A Profile of Charles Konowal CSC

FTM’s 20th Anniversary: 20 For the 20th – Reel Careers Profile Series

“The digital revolution has changed everything …” 

As a cinematographer and filmmaker with over forty years of experience, Charles Konowal has worked in both fiction and non-fiction production.
Konowal studied at the Minneapolis School of Art after graduating from high school in 1968 but the US draft system forced him to return to his homeland in Canada. He settled in Vancouver where he continued to pursue a career as an artist for a number of years. But a commission to paint a mural in a private home lead to an unexpected opportunity to explore the world of documentary filmmaking. That chance opportunity changed his career path and since the mid 70’s Charles has journeyed around the world exploring our planet through the art of documentary filmmaking.

Since 2013 Konowal has completed a series of six documentaries on the Winnipeg music scene and is currently developing as a producer a feature documentary on a group of Indigenous women in Canada who are building a village based on ancient matrilineal principles.
Konowol’s work can be viewed here

When and how did you start in the media production industry?
In the late 1960’s after arriving in Vancouver I began working as an artist and then out of the blue a patron offered me a job painting a mural on his dining room wall. My patron, Kalle Lasn (Founder of Adbusters) had attended the London Film School, he saw in my work some potential that I might make a good collaborator and we formed a filmmaking team, he directed and shot the films. Our first film was a road movie to Belize shot on super 8, a grand adventure that changed my career direction from a painter to a filmmaker.

What area in film do you work in now and why?
After around 30 years working as a cinematographer and an occasional producer/director on numerous narrative and documentary projects I decided to re-focus my career and work only on documentary projects. Docs were my first passion in the early days, I’d watch these great NFB films that explored foreign lands, the exposure to different cultures opened my eyes and I new this is what I wanted to do. So now I spend my time producing, directing and shooting documentaries that explore the world. There are so many fascinating stories to tell; it feels like I’m as busy now as I ever was.

What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started?
The digital revolution has changed everything, imagine shooting a film on your phone, that’s pretty huge and the speed of editing your film on any of the non-linear editing platforms. I loved shooting on film and the craft involved but the future is digital and no matter what tools you use, story is still king.

How did taking FTM training affect your career?
I attended a number of FTM courses on business affairs, which helped me understand that important side of filmmaking better. Coming from an art background, getting a handle on the business of filmmaking has been the biggest challenge for me.

What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
One film that sticks in my head is Breaking Waves by Lars von Trier. The film has the kind of raw power, the kind of unshielded regard for the force of good and evil in the world that we want to shy away from.  I also like most of Werner Herzog’s films. And more recently I’ve been watching a lot of narrative TV series, now that HBO, Showtime and the other alternative content providers are pushing the envelop on the small screen, TV has become a much better storytelling platform.

Is there a film technician or filmmaker that you would really like to work with and why?
The filmmaker that I’d like to meet and work with on a project is Werner Herzog. He’s a director whose films capture the psychological extremes of humanity and I love the way he can flow between fiction and non-fiction storytelling effortlessly.