Jennifer Baichwal
Baichwal at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, 2009
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Notable workManufactured Landscapes
SpouseNicholas de Pencier

Jennifer Baichwal is a Canadian documentary filmmaker, writer and producer.


Baichwal was born in Montreal, Quebec and raised in Victoria, British Columbia.[1] She is the daughter of Krishna Baichwal Sr. a cardiothoracic surgeon, and Elvina Baichwal. Together they had four children Jennifer, Krishna Jr., Elizabeth and Kristine. She is of Indian and British heritage.[2] In 1985, she traveled to Morocco and lived on a farm, inspired by the writing of Paul Bowles, who would become the subject of her first feature-length documentary.[3][4] Baichwal studied philosophy and theology at McGill University, writing her Master's thesis on Reinhold Niebuhr and receiving her master's in arts in 1994.[3] In 1995, Baichwal traveled with her family to India to scatter the ashes of their late father who had died from heart-related issues.[2]

Baichwal is married to cinematographer and director Nicholas de Pencier.[5] They were brought together by Baichwal's classmate, Canadian journalist Evan Solomon, after he had suggested de Pencier when she needed a cinematographer for her film.[6] Together, they have two children, a son Magnus born in 2000 and a daughter Anna born in 2003.[2][6] The couple started a production company in 2000, originally under the name Requisite Productions, now called Mercury Films.[7]


After completing her master's at McGill, Baichwal decided to pursue documentary film work as she found that it provided her the right avenue to explore the questions and issues that she had studied in her program.[8][9] Baichwal on her career choice: "I wanted to explore these questions of the human condition, but in a medium that was more lateral and more emotionally accessible than an academic paper."[9] She has stated that the documentary "allows you to reflect on ... things that are happening in the real world in a way that is creative".[9] Her films often attempt to investigate problems within documentary film form. She says: "There has to be some kind of mystery as well - a meta-level problem that the film becomes a response to. Our Paul Bowles film is about the impossibility of biography. The Holier It Gets is about the perils of confessional work, and The True Meaning of Pictures is about issues of representation. Manufactured Landscapes, proceeding from Edward Burtynsky's photographs, is about changing consciousness through witnessing the places we are all responsible for, but normally never get to see."[8][10]

Baichwal's production company has produced most of her films, along with other short films and documentaries including The Hockey Nomad and Black Code, the latter of which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016.[7][11]

Many of her films' subjects are artists of other mediums than film.[8][12][13] In an interview with the Seventh Art, Baichwal mentions how she is drawn to artists, stating: "There is something about art that can't be paraphrased and just living in the complexity of that world is very rich for me..."[8]

In 2016, Baichwal was named a member of the Toronto International Film Festival Board of Directors.[14][15]

Since their initial collaboration in 1995 and with the exception of Manufactured Landscapes, all of Baichwal's films have been shot by her husband Nick de Pencier.

Looking You in the Back of the Head (1997)

Looking You in the Back of the Head is a short television documentary produced in 1995 featuring 13 Canadian women exploring what they think of their own identity.[3][16]

Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles (1998)

Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles is a documentary biography on the American writer Paul Bowles. Made near the end of Bowles' life, Baichwal was able to screen the film for the author before his death in 1999.[4][12] She says of the experience viewing the film with her subject: "It was very important for me that he see [the film] before he died; he had just turned 88. I was petrified as to what he would think of it, he's a real misanthrope and recluse. I got to his place, and I wanted him to watch it after I left and then write to me. But he was insistent. So he put it on, and he has quite bad glaucoma, so he was sitting six inches from the screen. I shut the door, and I kind of panicked for 75 minutes while he was watching it."[4]

The Holier It Gets (2000)

The Holier It Gets is a documentary about Baichwal and her siblings pilgrimage to India to put their father's ashes in the Ganges river. It was filmed on 16mm by Nick de Pencier. The film explores themes of grief, closure, the afterlife and spirituality.

The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia (2002)

The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia is a documentary on the work of renowned and controversial American photographer Shelby Lee Adams. The film takes a layered approach to Adams' work, it features interviews with the photographer, his subjects and his critics. The film's title comes from one of Adam's subjects and defenders in the face of accusations of exploitation and stereotypes from the photographer.[12]

Manufactured Landscapes (2006)

Notable amongst Baichwal's features, the documentary Manufactured Landscapes focuses on the work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky in one of his expeditions to China. The photographs, taken for his China series, provide the frame for the film that explores the effects that rapid and recent industrialization has had on the environment in this manufacturing and economic superpower.[17]

Act of God (2009)

Act of God is a documentary about the metaphysical questions surrounding the event of being struck by lightning.[8] It features various accounts from people who have either been struck lightning or witnessed the act. It looks into scientific, cultural and religious interpretations of lightning showers from around the world. The film features narration from writer Paul Auster and centers his experience witnessing his childhood friend succumb to a fatal lightning strike.[12]

Payback (2012)

Payback is a documentary film adaptation of Canadian writer Margaret Atwood's non-fiction book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

Watermark (2013)

Watermark, the second collaboration between Baichwal and Burtynsky, sees the photographer co-directing the film alongside her. The documentary looks into the abuse of water, its effect and the dependence as water as a source of life. The film is accompanied by Burtynsky's series titled Water which he produced while filming the documentary.[8]

Long Time Running (2017)

Baichwal and de Pencier directed The Tragically Hip documentary Long Time Running, documenting the 2016 farewell tour of the Canadian band following lead singer Gord Downie's diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. It was released in 2017.[18][19]

Anthropocene (2018)

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is Baichwal's third collaboration with Burtynsky. The documentary explores humanity's aggregate impacts on the natural world, and whether they justify the creation of a new geologic epoch, equivalent to the Holocene or Pleistocene. It was released in September, 2018.[3]


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Title Result
1998 Genie Award Best Feature Length Documentary Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles Nominated
1999 Hot Docs Best Biography Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles Won
1999 International Emmy Award Best Arts Documentary Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles Won
2000 Hot Docs Best Independent Canadian Film The Holier It Gets Won
2000 Hot Docs Best Cultural Documentary The Holier It Gets Won
2000 Gemini Award Best Writing in a Documentary Program or Series The Holier It Gets Won
2000 Gemini Award Best Editing The Holier It Gets Won
2000 Gemini Award Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary Program The Holier It Gets Nominated
2003 Gemini Awards Best Arts Documentary Program or Series The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia Won
2003 Gemini Award Best Direction in a Documentary Program The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia Nominated
2006 Genie Award Best Documentary Manufactured Landscapes Won
2006 Toronto Film Critics Association Rogers Best Canadian Film Award Manufactured Landscapes Won
2006 Toronto International Film Festival Best Canadian Film Feature Manufactured Landscapes Won
2006 Gemini Award Best Direction in a Performing Arts Program or Series OAC Compendium Nominated
2013 Toronto Film Critics Association Rogers Best Canadian Film Award Watermark Won
2014 Canadian Screen Award Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary Watermark Won


  1. ^ "Jennifer Baichwal investigates lightning strikes in Act of God". The Georgia Straight, May 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Reid, Michael (April 18, 2001). "Portrait of a Journey: Documentary Chronicles Family's Pilgrimage to India to Release Father's Ashes". Times - Colonist. ProQuest 345801996.
  3. ^ a b c d "Documentary filmmaker to discuss her craft in 2015 Otis Lecture". 2015-09-18. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  4. ^ a b c Thompson, Jane L (January 23, 1999). "Jennifer Baichwal: Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal's most recent film was the Genie-nominated Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles.: [National Edition]". National Post. ProQuest 329380923.
  5. ^ "Feel the electricity". CBC News, April 28, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Scott, Alec (2004). "Shooting Stars: At a Time when the Genre has Hit an Influential High, a New Wave of Local Documentary Filmmakers is Producing some of the World's most Talked about Work". Toronto Life. 5: 67–72. ProQuest 214378007.
  7. ^ a b "Archives Search - Library and Archives Canada".
  8. ^ a b c d e f Jennifer Baichwal Interview, retrieved 2016-11-04
  9. ^ a b c d "ONF - Capturing Reality". Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  10. ^ "Producer Profile: Mercury Films/Foundry Films/NFB (Canada)". Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  11. ^ "Black Code". Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  12. ^ a b c d Varga, Darrell. "On True Meaning(s) and The Impossibility of Documentary in The Films of Jennifer Baichwal". Brno Studies in English. 2013, vol. 39. Issue 2. Pp. 55-70. hdl:11222.digilib/130309.
  13. ^ Lacey, Liam (April 19, 2008). "HOT DOCS LIFETIME-ACHIEVEMENT AWARD". The Globe and Mail. ProQuest 1371215613.
  14. ^ Reid, Regan (September 28, 2016). "TIFF shakes up Board of Directors". Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  15. ^ "Jennifer Baichwal Joins TIFF Board of Directors – Point of View Magazine". Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  16. ^ mthiele. "Jennifer Baichwal Biography". Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  17. ^ Bozak, Nadia (2012). The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources. Rutgers University Press. pp. 88–120.
  18. ^ "Tragically Hip's cross-country tour to get the documentary treatment next year". Toronto. Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  19. ^ "Tragically Hip's 'Man Machine Poem' Tour Getting Treated to Documentary". Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  20. ^ "Talented veterans, emerging directors make TIFF's Canadian lineup". CBC News. 7 August 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  21. ^ Clive Cookson (September 27, 2013). "Edward Burtynsky". Financial Times. Retrieved September 17, 2016.