Vancouver turns 125: Top 10 pioneers of Vancouver’s screen scene

From directors making gritty indies to intrepid producers and inspired editors, these trailblazers pointed the way for moviemakers to come

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      The story of moviemaking here, as with everything else in Vancouver’s first century-plus, is full of folks who never got the regular playbook. Now, as we finally retire the term Hollywood North, we can look back, in roughly chronological order, at 10 individuals who helped shape who we are today:

      Daryl Duke
      This Vancouver native, who died almost five years ago, created local CBC programming as far back as 1953, then launched indie station CKVU about 20 years later. He also directed such titles as The Silent Partner, Tai-Pan, and The Thorn Birds miniseries. Filmmaker David Hauka, director of the award-winning doc Certainty, says: “Daryl was endlessly supportive of a countless number of local filmmakers. The clarity of his mentorship is legendary, and he really put B.C. on the radar. Penelope Buitenhuis, Richard Martin, and Raymond Massey are just some of the people who would be different filmmakers without his support.”

      Larry Kent
      In the prehistoric era, this South African–born filmmaker was making gritty, no-budget independent features here, such as 1963’s The Bitter Ash. (Vancouverite Sylvia Spring’s 1971 Madeleine Is”¦ was Canada’s first feature made by a female writer-director.) Bruce Sweeney, who makes similarly loose-limbed movies today, like the in-progress Crimes of Mike Recket, says: “I remember watching Ash and When Tomorrow Dies in the ’90s and was struck by how the camera was crazy and all over the place. His stuff was sexual and chaotic, which I liked. He’s a true pioneer, and it feels like the rest of us finally caught up to his style: making films with more attitude and more idiosyncratic personality.”

      Al Sens
      Long before U.S.–born animator Marv Newland—founder of International Rocketship Ltd.—made Vancouver famous with his “Bambi Meets Godzilla”, Sens was cranking out wonderfully wacky little toons. “Al made more animated short films in Canada than any other independent animated filmmaker,” Newland explains. “In the early 1970s, he had one of the only 35mm animation-camera services in town, and his generosity made it possible for a large number of independent animators to make films prior to the computer-scanning era. It can be stated without blinking: no Al Sens, no Vancouver independent animation, period.”

      Sandy Wilson
      She has settled into teaching and behind-the-scenes producing, but in 1985, Wilson’s My American Cousin almost single-handedly made it okay for Canada to play Canada. Maggie Langrick, now entertainment editor at a local daily paper, played the director’s alter ego: “At the time, I was a 13-year-old girl, but so many have told me that that film really put B.C. on the map. It was a very exciting period, and things were just starting to coalesce. I’m incredibly proud to have been associated with the film. Because it was made in such a personal and unpretentious way, it
      really resonated.”

      Richard Davis
      This tall, bearded producer—born in England and raised in Australia—made key local films in the early 1980s and later helped develop B.C.–based series like Cold Squad. Vancouver producer Andrew Williamson, currently working on the series Yukonic!, says Davis built the production-management infrastructure by which local crews live today: “He succeeded in both sides of the business, producing iconic features and handling a tonne of U.S. service work. He helped shape the independence of local producers while keeping them connected across the country, and he never lost his individualism.”

      Haida Paul
      This veteran editor joined the CBC’s filmmaking unit in 1965 and then worked on many homegrown movies, including My American Cousin, which nabbed her a Genie. Loretta Todd, currently developing her first feature after many successful shorts and docs, says: “I’ve studied her editing techniques, and I also worked with the late Frank Irvine, another one of the early editors in Vancouver. Haida fearlessly followed her own path while respecting the craft of filmmaking and honouring the filmmakers she worked with.”

      George Johnson
      The Pacific office of the National Film Board’s model of flexible self-reliance was built in the late 1970s, when the SFU-graduating Johnson shared executive duties with Svend-Erik Erikson and Jennifer Torrance. Erikson, eventually put in charge of the shop, talks about the forward-looking Johnson, who now teaches at the Centre for Digital Media: “He really followed a more freelance approach, putting together a new team for each job. George was well known for nurturing young filmmakers, who quickly grew to love his irascible style. He also has the amazing ability to remember every single cut in every film.”

      Chris Haddock
      Like late Wiseguy maker Stephen J. Cannell, Haddock is a writer who learned to apply a factory approach to an essentially quirky vision. Top B.C. actor John Cassini, who has been in a number of the producer’s shows, including Intelligence and Da Vinci’s Inquest, says this about Haddock: “His integrity and compassion for other artists is an inspiration to me. He puts actors in a position to succeed with brilliant writing, directing, and generosity of spirit.” (Check out An Evening With Chris Haddock, 7 p.m. next Thursday [April 7] at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.)

      David Rimmer
      The experimental strain endures thanks to Rimmer’s hands-on advocacy. (The German-born Al Razutis also gets props here.) One of Rimmer’s best-known students, Ann Marie Fleming—her short “I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors” is on the fest circuit—talks about her former teacher, who recently won a Governor General’s Award in visual and media arts: “Dave introduced me to films I would never have watched otherwise, and they’re indelibly etched in my head. He’s one of the rare instructors I’ve ever met who found teaching inspirational for his own work. He’s a weird national treasure.”

      Dianne Neufeld
      As head honcho of the B.C. Film Commission from 1982 to 1994, this producing veteran—now teaching at Capilano University—green-lighted the careers of many people in key positions today. Here’s Terry McEvoy, who programs the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Canadian Images series: “Her influence can’t be overestimated. Dianne was a pivotal personality in the development of our film industry; her intelligence and perspicacity have really helped make us who we are today.”