By Ray Pride

Peter Wintonick Mourned By Thessaloniki Doc Festival, National Film Board, Hot Docs


image002Dimitri Eipides, director of The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, as well as its staff, mourn the passing of Peter Wintonick. He passed away on November 18 in his hometown of Montreal.

Canadian Wintonick, a brilliant figure and strong voice of the documentary world, was a director, producer, journalist, programmer and, perhaps most importantly, a mentor to generations of documentary professionals. He tirelessly traveled all over the planet and spread his vast knowledge of and love for documentary filmmaking. For his work, Canada awarded him in 2006 with its highest cultural honor, the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts.

Wintonick attended the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival since its inception and was beloved by all.

Our thoughts go out to his family and his friends all over the world.


Montreal, November 18, 2013 – Canadian cinema has lost a dear friend and a great champion with the passing of Peter Wintonick.

A passionate filmmaker and mentor, blessed with an irrepressible wit and spirit, Peter made enormous contributions to Canadian cinema in just about every aspect of movie-making. He’d been a producer, director, writer and editor on feature dramas, theatrical documentaries, educational films, television programs and Internet sites.

“Peter is (so hard to say ‘was’) one of the greats of the documentary world. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him for his passion, his commitment, his generosity. 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,” said Tom Perlmutter, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson.

“He could unleash his anger too; it may have been rare, but befitting Peter, it had the denunciatory force of an Old Testament prophet. I know because I saw him unleash it on the NFB for committing to a project he thought we should never have done—not because of point of view or ideology, but because he felt lives were potentially at risk. We were chastised and the better for it. Personally, when I started working in documentaries and met Peter, we had a conversation that has always stayed with me and profoundly influenced my perception and understanding of the work of the documentary. It had to do with the necessity of iconoclasm, of questioning and challenging the orders that be. He was right. I, alongside everyone he has touched, will miss this man,” remembered Perlmutter.

Peter and the NFB worked together on many occasions, most notably on the acclaimed NFB/Necessary Illusions 1992 feature documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, which Peter co-directed with Mark Achbar. Peter’s partner, Christine Burt, worked as part of the NFB’s marketing team to tirelessly promote and book the film in cities and towns across Canada. Manufacturing Consent would become one of the most successful documentaries in Canadian history, playing theatrically in 200 cities around the world, winning over 20 awards.

A lover and proponent of cinéma vérité, Peter worked with the NFB again on the 1999 feature documentary Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment, which received seven awards, including a Special Jury Award at the Banff World Media Festival and the Telefilm Canada Award for best Canadian feature-length work at the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Peter was also one of 30 leading documentary filmmakers featured in the 2008 NFB film and website Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. 

With Francis Miquet, Peter was a partner in the Montreal-based independent production company Necessary Illusions Productions, which produced and distributed media on a wide range of social, cultural and political issues, and assisted individuals and groups to create and use media for positive social change.

Peter’s work with Necessary Illusions included a 2009 documentary film with his daughter, filmmaker Mira Burt-Wintonick, called Pilgrimage, a trans-generational cinematic trip through the history of cinema and the future of new media. With Katerina Cizek, Peter co-directed the award-winning 2002 documentary Seeing Is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News, in which they traversed the world exploring the front lines of an emerging digital revolution in documentary media. His legacy also includes the 1998 documentary film The QuébeCanada Complex, co-directed and co-produced by Peter, and winner of the Canadian Association of Journalists Award for Best Documentary for its bold and humorous look at the Quebec/Canada national question.

He also recently served an executive producer at EyeSteelFilm as a mentor and international producer, working to develop and produce international co-productions.

Honoured with a 2006 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Peter was asked to serve on film juries around the world. He was one of the founders of DocAgora, an international think tank and open webplex about digital documentary media, and was invited by the premier of South Australia to be a Thinker in Residence, examining the future of documentaries and the digital revolution.

Canadian filmmaker Peter Wintonick passed away on Monday, November 18, at the age of 60. Mr. Wintonick was a pioneering voice and a beloved presence in the documentary film world, and contributed to over 100 films and transmedia projects during the span of his 35-year career.

“Peter was the best friend a documentary film festival could have—he poured his heart into supporting filmmakers and building camaraderie through the international doc community,” says Hot Docs executive director Brett Hendrie. “The entire Hot Docs family is deeply and personally saddened by this major loss, yet we know his great work and the many friendships and partnerships he helped to foster will endure.”

“This is so profoundly sad. Peter’s kind heart and enormous talent were the stuff of legend. He was a great friend and irrepressible mentor. We miss him already,” says Hot Docs president Chris McDonald.

A caring friend and an inspiring mentor, Peter Wintonick will be truly missed.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon