Pepita Ferrari, Veteran Documentary Maker, Dies at 66

Louis Piche
Pepita Ferrari

The National Film Board of Canada filmmaker also led the Documentary Organization of Canada.

Veteran National Film Board of Canada documentary maker Pepita Ferrari died Dec. 30 at her home in Lac Brome, Quebec. She was 66.

No cause of death for Ferrari, who was born in 1952, was available. "Documentary filmmaking and the Quebec film community have lost a dear friend. As a writer, producer and filmmaker — and a generous mentor to emerging filmmakers — Pepita was a true champion of documentary cinema," NFB commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur said Thursday in a statement.

Cinema Politica, a indie documentary screening network, in a statement on its website said Ferrari, who was a board member, had recently gone "on a leave of absence for health reasons," but stayed in touch with the organization.

"All of us at Cinema Politica are privileged and honored to have worked with and learned from Pepita in the more than five years she was with our organization. CP is stronger for Pepita’s wisdom, generosity and spirit, and so are we," said the Montreal-based group.

Ferrari's films for the NFB, Canada's publicly funded filmmaker, included the landmark 2007 doc Capturing Reality: The Art of the Documentary, which interviewed 38 cinema-vérité pioneers, including Albert Maysles, Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Nick Broomfield. The film had its world premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

Working with longtime partner Louis Piche, Ferrari co-founded Films Piché Ferrari in 1989 in Montreal. Ferrari met Piche at Ciné-Groupe when she worked with its animation department in 1987.

By 1994, Ferrari directed and co-produced her first documentary at the NFB, By Women's Hand, about the Beaver Hall group of Canadian women painters. Women as artists as a theme in Ferrari's work continued with the 1997 NFB film The Petticoat Expeditions, which focused on 19th-century British women traveling in then Upper Canada.

Her final film with the NFB was a 2011 short portrait of Margie Gillis, a Canadian dance artist and choreographer. Besides heading up the Documentary Organization of Canada as a one-time executive director, Ferrari also helped found the Eastern Townships Film Festival and the We Love Documentary Film Festival. 

For Ferrari, her festival programming and advocacy work helped illustrate how the NFB, and Canada, helped launch the documentary format. "Nanook of the North was one of the world’s first documentaries, and it was shot in Canada. The first head of the National Film Board of Canada was the person who coined the word 'documentary,'” Ferrari told the Penticton Western News in 2012 while hosting workshops and screenings at the Shatford Centre/Okanagan School of the Arts.

“There is a huge history that is embedded here in Canada. We are really internationally known for our connection to documentary and hopefully we can keep that alive," she added. The NFB is streaming a playlist of Ferrari's films at NFB.ca and will relaunch an interactive companion to her documentary Capturing Reality online on Tuesday.