About the Film


In 2012, French-Canadian artist Patrick Amiot, renowned for turning junk into whimsical artistic creations, pitched the most ambitious project of his life. When a Toronto-based developer approached the artist, Amiot proposed a 50-foot-diameter carousel with 44 ride-able reclaimed art pieces celebrating Canadian themes.

The 18-minute film Junkyard Alchemist documents the years Amiot and his wife, the painter Brigitte Laurent, spent building their pièce de résistance in Sebastopol, Calif. The film reveals their process of taking discarded material and transforming it into art.
Amiot and Laurent’s fanciful figures have become Sebastopol’s signature, drawing motorists to Florence Street, which has become a free public outdoor gallery of their art. But even the artists’ most ardent admirers had no idea that for several years (2012-2015) Amiot and Laurent and their crew of welders and metal cutters were building a carousel, called The Pride of Canada, at their workshop on Highway 116, just south of Sebastopol.

Short FILM out now, full feature coming in 2018

After years of transforming junk into art meant for riding – ranging from a mermaid to a lobster, a Royal Mountie to a crescent moon – the carousel is complete. But Amiot wonders, due to safety concerns and installation costs, if it will ever spin. A feature-length version of the 2017 short film, with more about Amiot and Laurent’s life stories and how their art has transformed Sebastopol, is slated for release in 2018.

Shapiro has written about Amiot and Laurent and their art for magazines including Sunset and Sonoma, and for newspapers including The Press Democrat. When he heard Amiot was building the carousel he approached McIntyre, a talented local filmmaker, and they documented the creation and construction of the carousel in Sebastopol. Shapiro traveled to Toronto in mid-2016 to film the carousel’s launch on Canada Day (the country’s Independence Day, July 1) in the Toronto suburb of Markham.

About the Filmmakers

Michael Shapiro

Michael Shapiro

Producer, Co-director, Camera in Toronto

Michael Shapiro is a journalist who has told stories in magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years. When he heard Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent were building a full-size carousel with 44 moving junk-art figures, he thought that should be documented. He approached filmmaker Eric McIntyre and they paired up to make Junkyard Alchemist. The film chronicles the building of the carousel from its inception in 2012 at Amiot’s studio just south of Sebastopol through its completion and re-assembly in the Toronto suburb of Markham in mid-2016.

Shapiro is author of A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration, a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel writers, published by Travelers’ Tales. His article about Wales featuring author Jan Morris was a cover story for National Geographic Traveler and won the prestigious Bedford Pace award. In 2016 he won the Explore Canada Award of Excellence for a magazine feature about Vancouver’s sustainable seafood movement.

Based in Sonoma County, about 30 miles north of San Francisco, he writes for national magazines including National Geographic Traveler, as well as newspapers such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle (where his weekly gambling column appears).

Shapiro wrote the text for Kraig Lieb’s pictorial book, Guatemala: A Journey Through the Land of the Maya. Beyond travel, Shapiro covers music and books and has interviewed Isabel Allende, Lucinda Williams, Pico Iyer, Anne Lamott, Smokey Robinson, Amy Tan, Seal, Paul Theroux and Barbara Kingsolver. He volunteers as a trip leader for ETC, an outfitter that takes disabled people on whitewater rafting trips and sea kayak adventures.

Eric McIntyre

Eric McIntyre

Co-director, Cinematographer, Editor

Berkeley native Eric McIntyre has been making documentaries, music videos and short features for about a decade. He was the production manager for Mountain King, which was shown at the 2016 Sonoma International Film Festival.

He’s also shot on location in Brazil and Argentina and produced, shot and edited a series of travel videos.

McIntyre has worked for many years as a real estate appraiser in Northern California and spent 10 years as a firefighter in the fire service.

A certified divemaster, he’s an avid traveler and surfer who often ventures to Central America and Southeast Asia. And he’s the father of a teenage daughter.

He and Michael Shapiro first worked together on McIntyre’s documentary Dispatches From a Far Frontier: The Life and Times of A.B. Kinne, the chronicle of a prospector and photographer who left San Francisco around 1900 to see his fortune in Alaska.

About the Artists

Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent

Junk Artist and Painter

French-Canadian artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, known in Sonoma County, California, for transforming junk into monumental art works, have transformed Sebastopol’s Florence Street into a whimsical outdoor art gallery.

Slender, energetic and quick to unleash his staccato laugh, Amiot said in a recent interview that he doesn’t know what a piece will look like until it’s finished. “I’m not sure until the very last day. I don’t know what I’m going to do because I don’t know what (pieces) I’m going to find. That’s really the best way to work as an artist.”

Friends and neighbors bring Amiot all sorts of treasures, such as old garden tools and car parts, which become incorporated into his work. He speaks rhapsodically about the objects, like hubcaps that “have their own spirit” because they’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles over scalding asphalt and winter prairies.

“Some people think I give new life to these objects, but I just extend their lives,” Amiot explained. “It just keeps going.”

From canada to california

In 1997, Amiot and Laurent and their two young daughters left the Montreal area and moved to the U.S. Lured by images of Hollywood, the family drove a motor home in the summer of 1997 to Los Angeles, but decided it wasn’t for them. So they headed north.

“We stopped in Marin and they didn’t want my motor home anywhere,” he said. So they kept driving until they reached Sebastopol. Locals were friendly and welcoming; Amiot and Laurent sensed the place would be right for them.

The family enjoyed Sebastopol, but Amiot’s clay figures, his art form at the time, wasn’t supporting them. The ceramics weren’t selling well in the U.S., he said, and shipping them to galleries in Canada was costly, with import duties, breakage and an unfavorable exchange rate.

“I failed. I was pretty much going bankrupt,” Amiot said. “I just decided that if I was going down, I may as well go down with a bang, so let’s do something silly and crazy and outrageous because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re an artist.”

The first junk-art figures

In early 2001, Amiot took and old metal boat, turned it into a towering fisherman and put it in his front yard. He thought it might annoy his neighbors, but they loved it.

After the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Amiot created a sculpture of a firefighter atop a box painted by Laurent with American flags that went in a neighbor’s yard. Then just about everyone on Florence Avenue wanted a piece of Amiot’s art, and he obliged. The street turned into Amiot’s open-air exhibition space, as visitors came from near and far to see his fantastic creations.

Florence Avenue became the “opposite of a gated community,” Amiot said, a “people’s gallery” where anyone could come at any time and enjoy his art for free.

Laurent, his partner in life and art for more than three decades, has been painting Amiot’s sculptures since he started. “If it wasn’t for Brigitte, I’d be selling used cars,” he said. “She’s more important than anything else in this whole thing.”

the pride of canada

Junk-art creators Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent have had lots of people ask them to create custom pieces. But a man who approached them a few years ago was different.

The Canadian developer didn’t request a sculpture of his wife or son or dog. He wanted something like a little fire truck that kids could ride at a convention center his company, the Remington Group, was building outside of Toronto.

Amiot recalled the conversation: “I said, ‘A kiddie ride. Isn’t that kind of small? Why don’t we do something bigger?’ ”

“Like what?” the developer asked.

“Let’s do a carousel,” Amiot replied. He just threw it out there. A week later the developer gave the green light, and Amiot began creating a merry-go-round like no other.

The carousel is 50 feet in diameter and has 44 sculpted metal figures to ride, among them: a gigantic beaver with buck teeth, a big gray dog, a bumblebee, a rabbit with huge curved ears and eyes made from old taillights, a moose, a school bus reading “ECOLIERS” in front, and a cow driving a pickup.

Landfill Junk becomes art

Named the Pride of Canada, the carousel is not just for show: it goes up and down, round and round, thanks to solar power and a state-of-the-art motor. As shown in the documentary Junkyard Alchemist, the carousel was constructed in Sonoma County from 2012 to 2015, transported to a Toronto suburb, and launched on Canada Day (July 1) in 2016.

The characters on the carousel reflect varied aspects of Canada. There’s a barrel going over Niagara Falls that’s accessible for the disabled, and each piece has a license plate from a Canadian province. Not coincidentally, the paint on each sculpture matches the color of its license plate.

Every piece is made from junk that would have been tossed into landfills. Amiot scours wrecking yards, flea markets and dumps to find rusted water tanks, old vacuum cleaners, spent fire extinguishers and other debris he fashions into art. Then the uniquely talented Laurent, who has a remarkable eye for luminous colors that accentuate Amiot’s creations, paints the metal figures.

No drawings, just trust

“They asked me if I can make drawings, and I just said no,” Amiot said about the carousel. “I took a big chance … because they could have turned around and said, ‘No drawings, no contract.’ But I think this gentleman believed in me enough to understand that I work with junk. I can seduce them with all sorts of pretty drawings, but the reality is (that) it’s not going to look like the drawings.”

Slender, energetic and quick to unleash his staccato laugh, Amiot explained that he doesn’t know what a piece will look like until it’s finished. “I’m not sure until the very last day. I don’t know what I’m going to do because I don’t know what (pieces) I’m going to find. That’s really the best way to work as an artist.”