Cana­dian pro­ducer sees Os­car nod through Net­flix doc

Howard Bar­ish and di­rec­tor Ava Du­Ver­nay have three films to­gether


Howard Bar­ish wasn’t think­ing about an in­vite to the Os­cars when up­start film­maker Ava Du­Ver­nay stepped into his Los An­ge­les of­fice about a decade ago.

The Win­nipeg- born pro­ducer was hap­pily man­ag­ing his own com­pany mak­ing TV net­work ad cam­paigns when Du­Ver­nay knocked on his door with a pitch to in­vest in her as a di­rec­tor.

“She’s one of the most in­tel­li­gent, ar­tic­u­late and pas­sion­ate peo­ple I’ve ever met,” Bar­ish says.

“Even­tu­ally there was just no way I could say no.”

Three fea­ture films into their part­ner­ship, they’re head­ing to the Academy Awards on Sun­day with a shared nom­i­na­tion in the doc­u­men­tary fea­ture cat­e­gory for Net­flix’s “13th.” It’s Bar­ish’s first Os­car nod and Du­Ver­nay’s sec­ond time in con­tention, af­ter “Selma” com­peted for best pic­ture.

A grad­u­ate of York Univer­sity’s film pro­gram, Bar­ish later learned about the Cana­dian en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try un­der in­flu­en­tial lead­ers such as Al­liance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions co-founder Robert Lan­tos.

He worked as as­sis­tant di­rec­tor on Cana­dian TV favourites like “The Edi­son Twins” and “Night Heat” be­fore set­ting up shop in Hol­ly­wood with his pro­duc­tion com­pany Kan­doo Films.

When Du­Ver­nay first walked into his of­fice, she was a pub­li­cist with a good rep­u­ta­tion around town. But she wasn’t shy about her am­bi­tion to make her own movies.

Bar­ish agreed to give her ac­cess to his stu­dio equip­ment in ex­change for a pro­ducer role on her 2010 de­but “I Will Fol­low” and the 2012 film “Mid­dle of Nowhere,” which won the di­rec­tor award at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val.

Next for Du­Ver­nay was the game-chang­ing “Selma,” which made her the talk of Hol­ly­wood.

But while Mar­vel was cir­cling her with an of­fer to adapt su­per­hero fran­chise “Black Pan­ther” for the big screen, Du­Ver­nay was in­trigued by a much smaller pro­posal from Net­flix to di­rect a doc­u­men­tary. What made the stream­ing ser­vice’s bid more in­ter­est­ing was a prom­ise that she could fo­cus on what­ever topic she wanted.

She told Bar­ish she wanted to ex­am­ine the 13th amend­ment to the U.S. con­sti­tu­tion. Its abol­ish­ment of slav­ery came with one ex­cep­tion - it didn’t in­clude peo­ple con­victed of a crime.

Bar­ish says the film’s topic res­onated with him, even as a Cau­casian Jew who grew up in Canada.

“To me it didn’t mat­ter what colour, creed, shape, size you are. Op­pres­sion is op­pres­sion,” he says.

“This is a hor­rific story that has con­tin­ued from the 1800s to to­day. It needed to be told.”

On the set of “13th,” Bar­ish’s role as pro­ducer ex­tended beyond the usual re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing the film’s bud­get. When they needed him, he’d grab a sec­ond cam­era to shoot im­pas­sioned in­ter­views with the likes of ac­tivist An­gela Davis and politi­cian Newt Gin­grich.

“I was there for ev­ery shoot day,” he says. “It’s a lo­gis­tics job and a creative job com­bined to­gether.”

Work­ing with Du­Ver­nay has en­cour­aged Bar­ish to help other new film­mak­ers.

His pro­duc­tion com­pany has two projects near com­ple­tion with first-time directors be­hind the cam­era. He hopes to get an­other four small in­die films rolling in the com­ing years.

Even if “13th” doesn’t win the Os­car, Bar­ish says the film is al­ready gen­er­at­ing at­ten­tion from view­ers across the globe.

“I get a dozen calls a day from uni­ver­si­ties and groups across the coun­try all want­ing to screen the film,” he says.

“What I hope for this film is it in­cites change.”


Cana­dian film pro­ducer Howard Bar­ish started film­mak­ing in Canada, but it wasn’t un­til Ava Du­Ver­nay stepped into his Los An­ge­les of­fice that his ca­reer truly caught fire.

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