by Donna Kakonge
Roger McTair is a director, poet, professor and writer living in Toronto. His short stories have aired on CBC Radio and BBC Radio and his films have enjoyed international audiences. The artist’s list of accomplishments outweighs his desire to keep a resume, so he has stopped keeping track.
One may wonder what colourful experiences the 65-year old Seneca College teacher had early on to inspire the diverse body of work that spans from the cultural to the quirky. His take on the source of his inspirations, however, are curiously simple.
McTair was born in Trinidad and Tobago on October 7, 1943. He says not having much to do while growing up – made his imagination essential and galvanized his love of creating things.
“I grew up in a film-loving country and there were few outlets. One of them was sports for boys, soccer, cricket, the movies, hanging out – the movies,” says McTair. “There were very limited things to do. There was some theatre if you were middle class, but there wasn’t a lot.”
“We would go to the movies,” continues McTair. “Very specifically what happened when I was about 17 – they would only show European movies and I found them so different; a lot of Italian movies, a lot of French movies, so I sort of realized at that point that you didn’t have to make movies only about cowboys and Indians. I looked at a lot of Japanese movies too.”
McTair came to Canada in 1969. He went to what is now known as Ryerson University to study film and philosophy and upon graduation started writing for newspapers in the black and Caribbean communities. His documentary career began ten years later with his first film It’s Not an Illness, an exploration of the sport of running during pregnancy. The doc garnered McTair a finalist position at the Genies and won an award with a medical association in California. A Genie also graced his next film Home to Buxton, which led to collaborating with filmmaker Jennifer Hodge on Home Feeling, an examination of the relationship between the police and the Jane-Finch community in Toronto.
McTair’s work expanded to projects with Vision-TV; his filmography also includes the 1994 Almeta Speak production Hymn to Freedom and Children Are Not the Problem in a collaboration with the Congress of Black Women of Canada. He added to earlier works with Jane-Finch Again and also created Different Timbres, a 14-minute short film. His latest film presented by the National Film Board is Journey to Justice, produced in 2000.
McTair has been teaching at Seneca College for about 16 years now. While passing the torch with wisdom gained in media writing, documentary and film, he continues to tell stories. He has published the Faber Book of Caribbean Short Stories, he writes poetry and opinion editorials. He has also lent his expertise to academic texts in the US.
Retirement is not much of a consideration for a man who considers himself in “mediocre” health. McTair says he has high blood pressure and could be in better shape, but exudes contentment and does not appear daunted.
“I’m quite casual about life,” he says. “I don’t always know when I’m stressed.”
His creativity has lineage; pride fills McTair’s voice when he speaks of his son Ian Kamau Prieto-McTair, also an artist.
“He had an Ontario Arts Council grant to work with Schools Without Borders; now he is working on a youth project. The apple did not fall too far from the tree.”
A man whose ingenuity was born out of boredom and necessity as a child has left a rich legacy of art and personifies how subtle creative influences can be. Those subtleties are what McTair learned sometimes end up dictating an entire life’s path.
“I have always done the same thing that I have done”, McTair muses. “I have always worked in writing and creative fields. And when I leave Seneca, I will continue to do that.”