The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) has reported the very sad news that pioneering cinéma vérité filmmaker Allan King has passed away in Toronto after a battle with brain cancer.
“Allan was simply one of the most influential documentary filmmakers who ever stepped behind the camera,” Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival head, and a a personal friend and lifelong associate of King’s, told indieWIRE. “Gentle, kind, immensely approachable, he was attracted to situations of change and people in crisis. He gained the trust of his subjects, treated their lives with great sensitivity and made films like ‘Warrendale’ and ‘A Married Couple’ that have proven to be enduring classics. His television dramas and dramatic features revealed other facets of his talent, and some of these are very fine films, but he kept returning to the documentary and in the last decade made three remarkable films about aging and racial stereotyping. Allan’s social conscience was always put at the service of his love for people. His was an enquiring, curious and open mind.”
King was born in 1930 in Vancouver, and started making documentaries at the CBC in the mid-1950s. His first documentary, 1956’s “Skid Row,” explored a rough district of Vancouver. In 1960, he formed Allan King Associates in Toronto to produce his own work. Collaborating with Richard Leiterman, Bill Brayne, Chris Wangler, Peter Moseley and Roger Graef, King, as the CBC writes, “pioneered novel techniques of cinéma vérité and direct cinema.”
In 2002, the Toronto International Film Festival presented a retrospective on King, including the two particularly groundbreaking works that Handling singled out – 1967’s “Warrendale” and 1969’s “A Married Couple.”
“Warrendale,” King’s first major feature documentary, follows emotionally disturbed children who live in a Toronto institution. Upon seeing “Warrendale,” Jean Renoir wrote: “Allan King is a great artist. His remarkable work exposes one of the most suspenseful action I have ever seen on a screen.”
Shown in the Parallel Section at the Cannes Film Festival in 1967, “Warrendale” won the Prix d’art et d’essai. It also tied for BAFTA’s Best Foreign Film Award with Michaelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up”and the New York Critics’ Circle Award with Luis Bunuel’s “Belle de Jour.”
King’s follow-up, “A Married Couple” – which examined a marriage in crisis – screened at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, and New York Times critic Clive Barnes described it as “quite simply one of the best films I have ever seen.”
King also worked with narrative film, including 1976’s “Who Has Seen The Wind,” which won the Grand Prix in 1976 at the Paris International Film Festival and the Golden Reel Award for the highest grossing Canadian film of the year. In his later years, he created many acclaimed works on aging and Alzheimer’s, including 2003’s award-winning “Dying at Grace,” which looked at five palliative care patients at Toronto’s Grace Hospital.
For more information about King’s work, check out his official website, and feel free to share your thoughts on his legacy below.