Doc film world mourns loss of director Peter Wintonick,
His 1992 film Manufacturing Consent played in more than 300 cities and garnered 22 awards
On the day Norma Dixon went to see her son’s film debut at the ByTowne Cinema on Rideau Street, she was worried no one else would show up.
The documentary, Manufacturing Consent, had taken director Peter Wintonick four years to make and ran nearly three hours long.
But much to Dixon’s relief, people were there that day. A lot of them. “There was a line all the way around the block,” she remembered Thursday.
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, which probed the life and work of the American political thinker, went on to become one of the most successful Canadian documentaries ever. The 1992 film, codirected with Mark Achbar, played in more than 300 cities around the world and won 22 awards.
Wintonick, who became renowned in the film world both as a director and mentor to up-and-coming filmmakers, died Monday morning at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, following a battle with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer. He was 60.
“(Wintonick) is one of Canada’s most important documentary filmmakers,” said producer Mila Aung-Thwin from EyeSteelFilm, Montreal’s leading documentary production house and a frequent collaborator with Wintonick.
“Manufacturing Consent changed the landscape internationally in terms of what a Canadian documentary could be intellectually and commercially.
“Before that, there weren’t many feature docs — especially about subjects as difficult as Noam Chomsky — that had been box-office smashes around the world, and that one was.”
Wintonick also directed the 2000 documentary Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment, and Seeing Is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News, a 2002 film about the influence of video equipment on political activism.
He won the Governor General’s Award in visual and media arts in 2006.
Born in Trenton, Ont., he moved to Ottawa at a young age and grew up in Westboro.
He was valedictorian of his graduating class at Nepean High School and went on to study film at Algonquin College.
A thoughtful, down-toearth young man, his interest in filmmaking began in his teen years, when he’d run around the neighbourhood with friends recording footage on a Kodak camera.
Wintonick was dedicated to his family, loved nature and was a consummate mentor to other filmmakers, including Aung-Thwin.
“Peter was a direct mentor to me right out of university and to (EyeSteelFilm partner) Daniel Cross, and was directly responsible for our careers starting.
“But we’ve been hearing that from all around the world in the last couple of days. He mentored young filmmakers and championed them and helped them with their films,” she said.
‘His contribution was far greater than the sum of his films. It encompassed a larger view of the documentary as quintessential to the moral well-being of the universe.’ TOM PERLMUTTER National Film Board
The Montreal documentary festival paid tribute to Wintonick on Sunday, and his friends and colleagues had hoped the noted filmmaker would attend.
The festival screened pilgrIMAGE, a 2009 film he codirected with his daughter, Mira Burt-Wintonick, that looks at how different generations experience film, with the father-and-daughter team visiting cinematic landmarks, including Federico Fellini’s hometown and Charlie Chaplin’s grave.
The screening was followed by a get-together where people from the film world shared their memories of Wintonick.
He was too ill to make an appearance, and the event at the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal served as a final homage to one of Canada’s great documentary auteurs.
As news of Wintonick’s death spread, tributes poured in on social-media sites, with tweets coming from activist Judy Rebick, Toronto International Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock.
Spurlock, the director of Super Size Me, tweeted, “Just landed in Denver and am gutted to hear about the loss of Peter Wintonick — doc world (loses) an amazing friend and champion today.”
The National Film Board’s Tom Perlmutter called Wintonick “one of the greats of the documentary world.”
“He created a significant body of work, but his contribution was far greater than the sum of his films. It encompassed a larger view of the documentary as quintessential to the moral well-being of the universe.
“He expressed this in conversation, in his writings, in his globe-trotting mentoring and programming activities, and always with a sharp wit that could take your breath away with the subtlety of the thought and the sheer joy in his manner of expression,” he said in a statement.
The NFB was involved with several of Wintonick’s films, including Manufacturing Consent and Cinéma Vérité.
In the past couple of months, Wintonick had been working on a new documentary, Be Here Now, which will include footage he shot over the course of his life. Eyesteelfilm plans to complete the project with help from his daughter.
Dixon said she last saw her son about three weeks ago, when family gathered for a few nights in Montebello, Que. He looked ill, but was lively as ever in conversation.
“When you lose a child, whether he’s brilliant or not brilliant, that’s the saddest thing in life,” she said.
A memorial to celebrate Wintonick’s life will be held in the coming weeks.
He is survived by his wife, Christine Burt, and his daughter, as well as his mother and younger sister, Suzanne, and her family.