THE BIG BREAK / Gerry Gilbert


THE BIG BREAK / Gerry Gilbert is a documentary portrait of Vancouver poet, artist and performer Gerry Gilbert. This conceptual video artwork consists of twenty-four episodes (ranging in length from 30 to 120 minutes) made over a five-month period from January 12 to May 2, 1988.


THE BIG BREAK / Gerry Gilbert loosely resembles a television talk-show in which Gerry performs as himself in a series of random encounters with family members, friends and colleagues. The conversations gravitate toward themes germane to artists and writers, while Gerry takes every opportunity to deconstruct and critique the mass media industries (television and popular cinema) of the day.


In making this documentary, our approach was rigorously spontaneous. For a typical episode, I would phone Gerry in the morning to talk about who might be around and up for a video session later that day. He would make a few calls until something clicked and off we would go.


Gerry and I had been friends since the 1960s when, as members of Vancouver’s Intermedia Society, we worked together on a number of photography projects, including the BC Almanac 1970 and Background / Vancouver 1972-74. After that we went our separate ways but stayed in touch. By 1987 I became interested in working with time-based media and to that end I assembled a portable camera unit consisting of lights, sound-recording equipment and a 1/2 inch beta video camera. It occurred to me that Gerry would make a great subject and so I approached him with the idea of collaborating on a video project. Moby Jane, his new volume of poetry, had just been published by Toronto’s Coach House Press. Also during this time he was deeply engaged in a number of long-standing literary initiatives including his self-published magazine BC Monthly, the weekly Radio Free Rainforest show on Vancouver CO-OP Radio, and frequent public readings and performances of his work at art and theatre events throughout Canada. He was super productive, albeit without making a lot of money. He celebrated his poverty because it freed him from cultural capitalism and allowed him to work on his own terms. Nevertheless he was annoyed that his work did not attract the wider audience and recognition which he felt it deserved.


Working together, Gerry and I were excited by the notion of artists circumventing mainstream media by appropriating its means of production, and taking the work directly to the public. Gerry mused “After all, what self-respecting poet wouldn’t kill to have his own television talk show,” and then added, with just a touch of cynicism, that this project might, in effect, turn out to be his “big break”.


Michael de Courcy








THE BIG BREAK / Gerry Gilbert



Peter Choquette

Yvonne Parent

Doug Melnyk

Gerald Creede

Larry Capstic

Betty Gilbert

Peter Culley

Billy Little

Renee Rodin

Marlene Swidzinski

Keven Davies

Gretchen Perk

Maxine Gadd

Jenny Shaw

Wanda Mae Amelia Anderson

Charles Watts

Juliet McClaren

Linda Gilbert

Judy Radul

Tina Farmilo

Jerry Geisler

Warren Tallman

Larry Bremner (Lary Timewell)

Trudy Rubenfeld

Rhoda Rosenfeld


Episode one:
At Home
January 12, 1988
21 minutes


Episode two:
Radio Free Rainforest, CFRO Radio, Vancouver, Goh Kasan Reading
With Peter Choquette
January 17, 1988
40 minutes


Episode three:
The Kitchen Table
With Peter Choquette and Yvonne Parent

January 17, 1988
114 minutes


Episode four:
Post office / Radio Show
With Doug Melnyk and Gerald Creede

January 24, 1988
56 minutes


Episode five:
Uncle Larry
With Larry Capstick and friend Sue

January 25, 1988
120 minutes


Episode six:
With Betty Gilbert and Peter Culley

February 3, 1988
94 minutes


Episode seven:
With Billy Little, Renee Rodin, Marlene Swidzinski and baby Danika

February 1, 1988
54 minutes


Episode nine:
Kevin Davies’
With Kevin Davies and Gretchen Perk

February 8, 1988
60 minutes


Episode ten:
At The Office
February 12, 1988
64 minutes


Episode eleven:
CFRO Valentine’s Day Benefit Reading,
the Vancouver East Cultural Center
With Maxine Gadd

February 14, 1988
28 minutes


Episode twelve:
With Jenny Shaw, Wanda Mae Amelia Anderson, Gretchen Perk and Betty Gilbert

February 15, 1988
64 minutes


Episode thirteen:
Special Collections, SFU. Part 1
With Charles Watts

February 17, 1988
77 minutes


Episode fourteen:
Special Collections, SFU. Part 2
With Charles Watts and Juliet McClaren

February 18, 1988
96 minutes


Episode fifteen:
Rehearsal for Betty
With Betty Gilbert and Linda Gilbert

February 25, 1988
63 minutes


Episode sixteen:
Carnegie Reading
With Judy Radul

February 25, 1988
35 minutes


Episode seventeen:
Two Poets
With Tina Farmilo

March 3, 1988
47 minutes


Episode Nineteen:
Three Friends
With Jerry Geisler and Peter Choquette

March 6, 1988
89 minutes


Episode twenty:
Warren Tallman
With Warren Tallman and Larry Bremner

March 8, 1988
84 minutes


Episode twenty-one:
Performance Poet
With Judy Radul and Tina Farmilo

March 10, 1988
98 minutes


Episode twenty-two:
Downtown Eastside Artists and Poets
With Trudy Rubenfeld, Rhoda Rosenfeld and Maxine Gadd

March 15, 1988
60 minutes


Episode twenty-three :
Reading at SFU
April 22, 1988
28 minutes


Episode twenty-four:
The New Era / Personal Artifacts,Taxes, Poetry
And The Breadline In The Alley

May 2, 1988
60 minutes