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Peter Mettler

Peter Mettler
Peter Mettler, 2013
Born Peter Mark Mettler
(1958-09-07) September 7, 1958
Toronto, Canada
Occupation Film director
Years active 1976 – present

Peter Mettler (born September 7, 1958 in Toronto, Ontario) is a Swiss-Canadian film director and cinematographer.[1] He is best known for his unique, intuitive approach to documentary, evinced by such films as Picture of Light (1994), Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002), and The End of Time (2012). He has also worked as a cinematographer on films by Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Bruce McDonald, and Jennifer Baichwal, and has collaborated with numerous other artists, including Michael Ondaatje, Fred Frith, Jim O'Rourke, Jane Siberry, Robert Lepage, Edward Burtynsky, Greg Hermanovic, Richie Hawtin, Neil Young, Jeremy Narby, and Franz Treichler.


  • Biography 1
  • Filmography 2
    • Feature films 2.1
    • Short Films 2.2
    • Cinematography (selected) 2.3
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5


Peter Mettler was born in 1958 to Swiss parents and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He made his first films at the age of sixteen before studying cinema at Ryerson University (1977-1982). While Mettler was at Ryerson, he spent summers loading cargo onto airplanes in Zürich, and took a year off to work with residents of a heroin rehabilitation home in a twelfth-century Swiss monastery, which provided inspiration for his first feature film Scissere (1982). Scissere was the first student film included in the Toronto International Film Festival (formerly known as the Festival of Festivals), and received the Norman McLaren Award for Best Canadian Student Film.[2]

Mettler followed the experimental narrative of Scissere with the intuitive travelogue diary, Eastern Avenue (1985), a form that would become a hallmark of his filmmaking style. In the 1980s, he would also collaborate as a cinematographer on several key films in the Toronto New Wave cinema of the 1980s, and wrote and directed the feature drama The Top of His Head (1989). As with Mettler's subsequent films, The Top of His Head explores the nature of human perception and technology’s ability to liberate and enslave experience through the power of recording media.

In 1992, Mettler adapted the stage play Tectonic Plates by Robert Lepage, in collaboration with Lepage and Theatre Repère. The film was shot on location in Venice, Scotland, and Montreal. The play is a series of vignettes that draw inspiration from the movement of geologic tectonic plates. This metaphor expanded Mettler's associative approach to narrative, which would be developed further in his later documentaries Picture of Light (1994), Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002), and The End of Time (2012).

Picture of Light (1994) was made as a result of a meeting with the Swiss artist-scientist-collector Andreas Züst, who proposed to Mettler to capture the aurora borealis on film. Mettler took up the challenge, braving arctic temperatures and constructing a special time-lapse camera system capable of operating in severe nighttime conditions during the film's photography in Churchill, Manitoba. Picture of Light laid the foundations for Mettler's exploratory documentary essay style, and was widely acclaimed, winning numerous awards.

Mettler's next film, Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002) was an epic project that spent ten years in the making, a three-hour long meditation on transcendence photographed across three continents, including Las Vegas, Switzerland, and southern India. The final cut was derived from a 55-hour long assembly of unique footage, which Mettler said was like "composing a piece of music".[3] Gambling, Gods and LSD received a Genie Award for Best Documentary.[4]

After Gambling, Gods and LSD, Mettler became interested in developing an improvisational approach to cinematic montage within a live context. Since 2005, has worked with the software company Derivative to develop a image-mixing software platform used in live performances, including "Shostakovitch/Notes in Silence" (2007), and has performed with artists including Biosphere, Fred Frith, Jeremy Narby and Franz Treichler. This technique was also used in The End of Time (2012).[5]


Feature films

Year Film Notes
1982 Scissere 87 min. experimental narrative. Awards: Norman MacLaren Award, Best Canadian Student Film.[2]
1985 Eastern Avenue 58 min. experimental travelogue.
1989 The Top of His Head 110 min. feature drama.
1992 Tectonic Plates 104 min. feature drama, adaptation of the play by Robert Lepage. Awards: Most Innovative Film of the Festival, Figuera da Foz;[6] Catholic Jury Award, Mannheim Film Festival; Christopher Columbus Award, Most Original and Creative of the Festival, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Colombus, Ohio.[6]
1994 Picture of Light 83 min. feature documentary. Awards: Best Film, Best Cinematography, & Best Writing, Hot Docs Toronto; La Sarraz Prize, Locarno International Film Festival; Award for Excellence in the Arts, Swiss Ministry of Culture; Grand Prize (Images & Documents), Figueira da Foz International Festival; Best Ontario Film, Sudbury Cinefest;[4] Runner-Up Prize, Yamagata International Documentary Festival.[4]
2002 Gambling, Gods and LSD 180 min. feature documentary. Awards: Genie Award - Best Documentary, Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television;[4] Grand Prix & Prix du Publique, Visions du Reèl (Nyon, France);[4] NFB Best Feature Documentary, Vancouver International Film Festival; NFB Best Documentary, Festival du Nouveau Cinema (Montreal); 3SAT Prize for Best Documentary; Duisburger Filmwoche; "Top Twenty Canadian Films", Toronto International Film Festival; Award for Excellence in the Arts, Swiss Ministry of Culture; "One of the Year’s Best Films," Film Comment (Lincoln Center, New York, USA).
2009 Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands 43 min. documentary, co-produced by Greenpeace Canada. Awards: Prix du Jury du Jeune Publique, Visions du Réel (Nyon, France); Fondazione Ente dello Spettacolo Prize, Festival dei Popoli. Nominated: Genie Award for Best Short Documentary.[4]
2012 The End of Time 114 min. feature documentary. Awards: Premio Qualita di Vita Award, Locarno International Film Festival; “Canada’s Top Ten,” Toronto International Film Festival; Nominated for Best Documentary, Music, Camera, Swiss Film Prize Nominations. Nominated: Best World Documentary, Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival.[4]

Short Films

  • Reverie (1976), 20 minutes.
  • Lancalot Freely (1980), 20 minutes.
  • Gregory (1980), 25 minutes.
  • Balifilm (1997), 30 minutes. Best Short Film, Duisburger Filmwoche.
  • Away (2007), 3 minutes. Co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Cinematography (selected)


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b

Further reading

  • White, Jerry, Of This Place and Elsewhere, (Toronto: Wilfrid Laurier University, 2006). ISBN 0-9689132-5-3
  • Pitschen, Salome, Annette Schøonholzer, Peter Mettler: Making the Invisible Visible, (Lucerne, Switzerland: Verlag Ricco Bilger, 1995). ISBN 3-908010-93-4

External links

  • Official website
  • Peter Mettler at the Internet Movie Database
  • Canadian Film Encyclopedia – Peter Mettler
  • Peter Mettler – Northern Stars
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