Documentary movie director Fred Peabody.

How award-winning doc movie director Fred Peabody got his start at Surrey school

An inteview with the maker of ‘All Governments Lie’ and ‘The Corporate Coup d’Etat’ films

When I PVR’d a riveting documentary called All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of the I.F. Stone on TV about two months ago, I had no idea the guy who made the movie grew up in Surrey.

He is Fred Peabody, whose Emmy-nominated doc was given a Directors Guild of Canada award a year after its 2016 release.

Peabody lives in Kitsilano these days, and recently celebrated the premiere of his second feature-length documentary, The Corporate Coup d’Etat.

Turns out, Peabody got his start in broadcasting while roaming the hallways of Mary Jane Shannon junior high, later renamed Guildford Park Secondary.

By Grade 9, he grew interested in radio news and would often imitate local broadcasters to amuse his pals.

“People told me I sounded just like them, those newscasters,” Peabody said in a booming, broadcast-ready voice. “I started practicing and thought, ‘This is cool, I could do this.’”

A doorway to journalism opened when he and some friends started a radio broadcaster club at the school.

“We started a radio show that we broadcast on the school PA system,” Peabody recalled. “My friend Steve (Gidora, now with the band The Wheat in the Barley) became the disc jockey and played music, and he was already a musician, good on the guitar and singing, and he played rock music, whatever was happening those years. And I would do a newscast. Every Friday we did this, and every Thursday night I’d write a newscast – taking it out of the Vancouver Sun, basically.”

Months later, a teacher who knew someone at a local radio broadcaster arranged a tour at the station for members of the club.

“Right there I was bitten by the bug, because that radio station was the coolest place in the world,” said Peabody, whose career in news media later took him to Toronto, New York and Los Angeles, to work on investigative-news TV shows including The Fifth Estate, 20/20 and Dateline NBC.

Following graduation from Queen Elizabeth Secondary in 1966, Peabody got a job with the CBC in Prince Rupert but soon hopped a bus for greener pastures in Toronto.

On assignment in Montreal, he spent several hours interviewing John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their famous hotel “Bed-In” for peace in the spring of 1969.

“We talked for hours, and he (Lennon) asked me to come back the next day,” Peabody recalled. “I suppose I was asking more intelligent questions than he’d usually get, and on that second day a photographer took a photo of me with Lennon. So later, the photographer told me that after I left, they wheeled a bunch of recording equipment into the room and they all got to sing on a new song.… So I came that close to singing on ‘Give Peace a Chance.’

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PHOTO: Fred Peabody (left) interviewing John Lennon at a Montreal hotel room in 1969, during the famous “bed-in” the musician did with Yoko Ono. (submitted photo)

After honing his craft as a producer on The Fifth Estate in Toronto, Peabody spent two decades living and working in the United States, from the mid-1980s to the late-2000s. By 2009, he was back living in Vancouver to care for his aging father.

“I quit Dateline because I couldn’t stand doing endless stories about O.J. Simpson and brush fires and mudslides, which seemed to be the only thing we did in Los Angeles,” Peabody said. “All the creative pieces were being done by New York producers. We were getting thrown stories that were more like breaking news stories, which isn’t what I was interested in doing. I’d done my share of that as a much younger guy. I wanted to do documentaries.”

For about a year be worked on a show called Ice Pilots, as a story editor.

“I wasn’t filming on the airplanes or anything, but I took all the footage and helped put it together,” Peabody explained. “That’s not documentary television, I’d call it docu-reality television – not quite my cup of tea, but it paid the rent. By moving up here again, I got into doing documentaries I’d wanted to do all my life, which is just theatrical documentaries – feature-length and roughly 90 minutes in length, with no holes for commercials. So I’ve done two of those now.”

The first, All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone, is Peabody’s examination of Stone’s groundbreaking work as an investigative journalist who published a weekly newsletter in the 1950s and 1960s.

The second, The Corporate Coup d’État, shows how “Donald Trump and right-wing populist movements around the world are the logical result of a creeping, corporate coup d’état that has taken over established political parties, both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative,’” according to one description of the movie at cineplex.com. “This film tells the story of how the coup happened and shows its disastrous effects on society’s most vulnerable citizens.”

The CORPORATE COUP D'ÉTAT – Trailer from WhitePinePictures on Vimeo.

Peabody wants as many eyeballs as possible on The Corporate Coup d’État, of course, but he sounds frustrated when the topic of film distribution and screenings is raised.

“It’s interesting because public television in France and Germany will broadcast films like All Governments Lie and The Corporate Coup d’État, but there’s no way in hell of getting that on public television in the United States, for example. There’s no way PBS would touch it, because it’s too critical of corporatism. And of course where does PBS get all of its money these days? They don’t get any money from the government, they get it all from what are called underwriters, in addition to, you know, viewers like you. It’s grants from, you know, the Exxon Corporation, Union Carbide. And that plays into the themes of both movies I’ve recently done, because we identify the problem in All Governments Lie of how the corporate mainstream media do not do a very good job of holding governments accountable, particularly in the lead-up to wars, and PBS is included in that assessment, in that corporate media mentality. But most people don’t look at PBS in that way. People think PBS is so much better, and yes, it is better in some ways, because it’s more intelligent, but that’s it.”

With The Corporate Coup d’État featured at the Worldviews on Media and Higher Education conference in Toronto this week, Peabody is set to focus on his next feature-length documentary movie.

“I’m hatching a plot for the next one, but I can’t talk about it just yet,” he said. “It is one that may be less threatening to PBS, let’s say, and the BBC, which also wanted nothing to do with The Corporate Coup d’État,” he added. “I didn’t do this intentionally but it’s a topic that’s a little more… They may find it a little less threatening, let’s say, than two documentaries that question the corporate establishment. This next one is a more philosophical film.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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