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VIDEO: New documentary to look at Inverness coal mines

Liam Alexander may be just out of film school but he’s been making films for most of life. CONTRIBUTED
Liam Alexander may be just out of film school but he’s been making films for most of life. CONTRIBUTED
INVERNESS, N.S. —

With a cigarette hanging out of his pursed lips, the tough-looking miner in the black and white poster for the upcoming short documentary, “The Broken Ground,” doesn’t look like he’d take guff off anyone.

But the words “underpaid, undervalued and underestimated” printed next to his face sum up how the miners who worked in the Inverness Coal Mines in the past were treated and Inverness filmmaker Liam Alexander wants you to know that.

His film is based on the privately printed book, “The Broken Ground: A History of Inverness Town, 1803-1954,” written by Ned MacDonald in 1979.

Based on the book “The Broken Ground,” written by Ned MacDonald 42 years ago, Liam Alexander’s short documentary takes a look at the Inverness coal mines. CONTRIBUTED
Based on the book “The Broken Ground,” written by Ned MacDonald 42 years ago, Liam Alexander’s short documentary takes a look at the Inverness coal mines. CONTRIBUTED

The book may be double the filmmaker’s age about a time even further in the past but Alexander hopes viewers will be transported back to when Inverness was a boisterous mining town and its workers regularly risked their lives to support their families.

Alexander may be only 21 (“22 in a few days”) but he’s been making short films since he was a child. A recent graduate of the Nova Scotia Community College screen arts program, he’s already written, filmed and produced several films and documentaries including one, “Paddy’s Passion,” that won an Award of Merit in the Canada Shorts International Film Festival in 2018 and was chosen as an official selection in that festival.

“I’ve been messing around making films and telling stories since I was around 10 or 11 years old,” said Alexander, whose full name is Liam Alexander MacDonald.

“I come from a family of storytellers and musicians and comedians like Howie MacDonald who would be my cousin and my father was Dougie MacDonald, a fiddler. I never really got into music so much but I always wanted to find a medium that combines music and visuals and storytelling so film was always something that kind of drew me in because of that. I’d make small little films by myself growing up and then of course I got more serious as I got older.”

This group of Inverness coal miners had their photo taken back in the 1880s and is a still from the upcoming short documentary, “The Broken Ground,” to be released this spring. CONTRIBUTED • INVERNESS MINERS MUSEUM ARCHIVES
This group of Inverness coal miners had their photo taken back in the 1880s and is a still from the upcoming short documentary, “The Broken Ground,” to be released this spring. CONTRIBUTED • INVERNESS MINERS MUSEUM ARCHIVES

His father Dougie MacDonald was a celebrated Cape Breton fiddler and composer who died in 2009 when his vehicle crashed near Cheticamp. Alexander uses his father’s music to score his films.

“For me at least, music is a big component — it really helps convey the emotion so music is always something I definitely consider because you can have a film that doesn’t have good music and it can ruin the entire experience,” said Alexander. “I have access to all my father’s fiddle tunes so I use a lot of his in my projects just because I have the rights.

“He was pretty good.”

Liam Alexander’s neighbours make their own maple syrup so Alexander made a film about it. It won an award of merit and was chosen as an official Canada Shorts selection in the 2018 Canadian and International Short Film Festival. CONTRIBUTED
Liam Alexander’s neighbours make their own maple syrup so Alexander made a film about it. It won an award of merit and was chosen as an official Canada Shorts selection in the 2018 Canadian and International Short Film Festival. CONTRIBUTED

Alexander expects “The Broken Ground” to be ready sometime in May. After that, he’s hoping to shoot more Cape Breton-based documentaries and doesn’t expect to run out of subject matter anytime soon.

“It’s a great way to really get to know people better. At the end of the day, it’s all about people. That’s really what I’m interested in. I like a good narrative like anyone else but documentaries are something that I have always felt more comfortable doing.

“And there are so many stories in Cape Breton that are untapped — this is just one of them.”

Elizabeth Patterson is a culture and health reporter at the Cape Breton Post. 

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