Press Release 27/4/05



April 27, 2005 (Yorkton, Sask.) Canada’s longest running film festival, the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival (May 26-29, 2005) announced today a two-day celebration of Canada’s most renowned documentary filmmaker, Donald Brittain*. The event, REVISITING GREAT BRITTAIN, will unite former friends, colleagues with established and emerging filmmakers to pay tribute to and screen Brittain’s groundbreaking work in documentary filmmaking.

After earning 70 international awards – among them three Academy Award™ nominations; 15 Genie Awards and Venice’s prestigious Gold Lion Award, Donald Brittain was a prolific filmmaker with over 90 films to his credit. From the bureaucracies of the modern workplace and his fascinating look at the life of writer Malcolm Lowry to the survivors of the Holocaust and the Dionne Quintuplets, his groundbreaking documentaries have explored Canada’s rich social and cultural past. His work has been the subjects of major retrospectives at the New York Museum of Modern Art and at Harvard University.

“This is a rare opportunity to experience again or for the first time the genius of Donald Brittain and interact with many of his colleagues who collaborated with him on the many documentaries.”

Joe MacDonald, Producer of Documentary, Western Centre, National Film Board

The Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival is Canada’s longest running film festival. Home of the prestigious Golden Sheaf Award, the Festival offers a unique opportunity for established and emerging filmmakers to meet face-to-face with industry decision makers and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in the heart of the Saskatchewan prairie. Join us from May 26 to 29, 2005 for fascinating panel discussions, screenings, retrospectives and the famous Yorkton BBQ and Barn Dance. For more information on the upcoming Festival and registration, please contact:

Donald Brittain is Canada’s most renowned and honoured English documentary filmmaker. Working as a director and writer, he has explored Canada’s history, often rescuing aspects from the nation’s collective amnesia.

Brittain attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and then, from 1951 to 1954, he was employed as a police reporter with the Ottawa Journal. While working as a foreign correspondent, he traveled extensively in Europe, Mexico and Africa. In 1955, he joined the National Film Board to apprentice as a screenwriter. Brittain’s scriptwriting skill combined with his flair for selecting and organizing images created a forceful impact, demonstrated best in Fields of Sacrifice (1963), Bethune (1963), Memorandum (1965), Dreamland (1974), Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry (1976), The Dionne Quintuplets (1978), On Guard for Thee (1981), The Children’s Crusade (1984) and The Champions trilogy (1986).

In 1963, Brittain made his name as a director with his first major film, Fields of Sacrifice. During his early years at the NFB, he wrote and directed some of his most memorable films, including Bethune, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965, co-directed with Don Owen), Never a Backward Step (1966, co-directed with John Spotton) and Memorandum (co-directed with John Spotton), a stirring reminder of Nazi death camps, which many critics con­sider to be his finest film.

Brittain left the NFB in 1968 to work on feature pro­jects and multi-screen filmmaking in the USA and Japan, but returned in 1970 to freelance at the NFB and CBC. His filmography contains some of the best documentaries ever made; notably, the biographical docudramas Volcano, narrated by Richard Burton, which won six Etrogs (now Genies); Canada’s Sweetheart (1985), about the notorious mobster and union boss, which won two Geminis; and The King Chronicle (1987), a six-hour mini-series about Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King.

As director, writer and narrator of his own films, Brittain was one of the best commentary writers of the time. He approached his subjects in a didactic style and with an ironic detachment that distinguished his work and would eventually establish him as the master of the television documentary. Known for both his witty and often withering portraits of famous and infamous Canadians and his examinations of obscure areas of Canadian life and fashion, Brittain is arguably the most comprehensive chronicler of post-WWII Canada.

Shortly before his death in 1989, Brittain started work on Family: A Loving Look at CBC Radio (1991), which was completed by Robert Duncan. In 1990, Brittain was posthumously appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of “his masterful visual records of our social and cultural past.”

* Source: Film Reference Library

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