John Dunning (1927-2011)

I received word last night that Cinépix co-founder John Dunning passed away earlier this week. John, 84, was in a bad bicycle accident in 2006 and unfortunately never fully recovered from his injuries.

Through Cinépix, John and his partner André Link were instrumental in changing the film landscape in Canada. Distributors, initially, they moved into production in 1968 with Valerie, the prototypical French-Canadian sexploitation effort. A smash success, it launched a cottage industry of what Variety dubbed “Maple Syrup Porn.”

In the 1970s John and André moved into English production and horror, bringing on board fledgling producers Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody. They mentored countless producers and directors and even helped launch the career of David Cronenberg when they took a chance and allowed him to direct a script he had written, SHIVERS. The 1980s saw them hitch their train to the slasher boom, creating some indisputable all-time classics of the genre—HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and MY BLOODY VALENTINE.

In all, John helped produce more than 60 Canadian films in the last four decades, almost all of which were firmly in the canuxploitation arena. Even in his late 70s he kept his own office at Lionsgate in Montreal, apparently shuffling around the halls in a pair of slippers and still coming up with new ideas. Even after his accident, John may was still as active as ever, even announcing plans for a VALENTINE sequel last April.

If there’s any small comfort, it’s that John was around to see the accolades that have recently poured in for his life’s work over the years. He picked up a 1993 Genie award for Outstanding Contributions to the Canadian Film Industry and was inducted into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame in 2007.  This past June he received the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Clyde Gilmour Award and a Lifetime Acheivement at Fantasia that I was honoured to be a part of.

I never met John in person, but talked to him several times on the phone for a 2005 article I wrote. He was very forthcoming and a pleasure to talk to, even if at first he seemed a little wary of the purpose of my piece—I remember reassuring him several times that I was a fan of his work and wanted to celebrate Cinépix’s contributions. You can check out the entirety of my interview with John Dunning and his partner, Andre Link, “Sin and Sovereignty: The Curious Rise of Cinépix Inc.” online; it was originally published in (the now defunct) Take One Film and Television in Canada in March 2005.

Also see John’s obits in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.


RIP: Bob Clark

Yesterday, on April 4, 2007 we received the upsetting news that veteran director and Canuxploitation favourite Bob Clark and his son Ariel Hanrath-Clark were killed at 2:30 AM on the Pacific Coast Highway, when their vehicle was struck head-on by an SUV driven by an alledgedly drunk driver.

As you may know, I had the opoprtunity to interview Bob on two separate occasions in the past few years, and found him to be a warm, and thoroughly engaging personality. He really did seem to enjoy reminiscing about his past work, and loved to talk about his proudest achievement–working with Arthur Miller on the little-seen cable movie The American Clock

Though he “officially” retired from filmmaking after he 1990’s Loose Cannons, he couldn’t keep away from the camera. It’s true that many of his later movies were done for the money, but he still very much subscribed to the “one for them, one for me” theory of commerical filmmaking–even at 67, he had several films in pre-production when I spoke to him last October, and was extremely excited about his update of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.

I’m only glad that he was able to experience a resurgence in popularity in the last three or four years from more and more fans discovering his influential 1970s classics on DVD.

He will be missed.