Industry titans feted at Hall of Fame bash

Nine key industry figures past and present were inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame June 25 at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, in an event attended by more than 150 Canadian media leaders.

Nine key industry figures past and present were inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame June 25 at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, in an event attended by more than 150 Canadian media leaders.

The second annual event, organized by Playback, feted honorees including Quebec producer Roger Frappier, comic actress Catherine O’Hara, director Allan King, TV broadcaster Trina McQueen, producer/distributor Robert Lantos, documentary filmmaker Donald Brittain, TV mogul Israel ‘Izzy’ Asper, and comedy duo Frank Shuster and Johnny Wayne.

In careers of 25 years or more, each of these diverse talents fulfilled the prime Hall of Fame requirement: they ‘demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to establishing, developing and maintaining the highest standards of excellence in Canadian film and television.’

Robert Lantos, founding chair of Alliance Communications and producer of Eastern Promises, Being Julia and Sunshine, was introduced by longtime friend Laszlo Barna, who praised his fellow Hungarian-Canadian producer for pursuing his twin passions: ‘filmmaking and Canada.’

Lantos derided his induction as an industry builder as ‘absolute nonsense,’ insisting that he only helped to build an industry after his only job interview – at the National Film Board – ‘didn’t go well.’ Praising his old friend and partner Victor Loewy and such early Alliance colleagues as Stephen Roth and John Kemeny, Lantos made it clear that it was only with their support that he was able to challenge those who controlled Canadian broadcasting and introduce domestically made drama series such as Night Heat.

Allan King, inducted in the creative category, was introduced by filmmaker and Directors Guild of Canada president Sturla Gunnarsson. King, whose 50-plus-year career has seen him direct dramas such as Who Has Seen the Wind? and docs including Warrendale and Dying at Grace, as well as also serving as DGC president, expressed appreciation for ‘being paid to explore themes – like adolescence and memory loss – that obsess me.’ He also stirred the crowd on the Bill C-10 issue, declaring that it’s ‘fundamentally important to work together or we’ll end up with censorship.’

Another documentarian, the late Donald Brittain, was honored as an industry pioneer. His filmography, including classics The Champions, Memorandum and Canada’s Sweetheart: The Saga of Hal C. Banks, was cited by Gunnarsson, who praised Brittain’s Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry as ‘the finest documentary of all time.’ Accepting the award was Cindy Witten, head of English-language production at the NFB, which produced the majority of Brittain’s films.

Playback editor Mark Dillon spoke of pioneer inductee Asper, who established Canwest Global Communications and sustained the National Post. Accepting the award on behalf of the Asper family was Canwest chief marketing officer Walter Levitt, who said that the late Asper’s ‘spirit lives on’ through the company’s dedication to ‘giving back to the community.’

Comic actor Peter Keleghan got a laugh from the audience recalling his early days as a bit player on Wayne and Shuster specials on CBC. The comic duo, also inducted in the pioneer category, was famously a huge hit on the The Ed Sullivan Show, appearing a record 67 times. Comedian Steve Shuster, Frank’s son, accepted the awards, commenting that they ‘should win – not for talent, but for making a living for decades in the Canadian entertainment business.’

Slawko Klymkiw, executive director of the Canadian Film Centre, said a few words on behalf of Los Angeles resident Catherine O’Hara, who was unable to attend. The comedienne is best known for helping to launch the hugely popular SCTV on Canadian and U.S. TV, and for starring in more than 40 movies.

Playback special reports editor Suzan Ayscough introduced Frappier as a producer who has made films that are both artistic and box office successes.

A producer on The Decline of the American Empire, Seducing Doctor Lewis and Cosmos, Frappier acknowledged his mentors, including British director Lindsay Anderson, Quebec’s Claude Jutra and Robert Altman. He said that his biggest lesson came from director Denys Arcand, who stuck to his guns despite criticism from prospective international distributors regarding his cut of Decline, the first film Frappier and Arcand made together. Despite these early negative reviews, the film would go on to be an Oscar-nominated, international success.

Finally, Trina McQueen, former head of CTV and recognized in the television category, jokingly noted that many of the inductees and people in the room were former colleagues with whom she had engaged in ‘embittered battles’ over the years. Like Allan King, her opposite ‘royal’ figure, McQueen wondered what Canadian media would achieve if it tried harder to work together.