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.


Canuxploitation Runs Wild at Fantasia’s Cinépix Tribute

I was thrilled when I heard that this year’s Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal was planning to celebrate Canadian genre film pioneers John Dunning and André Link, and even moreso when the festival organizers asked me to pack my bags and attend the July 20, 2011 gathering. It was a really fun, heartfelt evening–a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the Cinépix founders, they were toasted by their peers, and it all culminated in a screening of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, the pair’s breakout Anglophone hit that changed the entire direction of not only their own future productions, but Canadian cinema as a whole.

That’s enough CanCon to give anybody Log Driver’s Waltz nightmares for a month, but it didn’t stop there–I squeezed much Canadian cinema goodness out of those five days, a maple-syrup drenched holiday that overflowed with Canadian cult screenings, conversations and meetings. I thought I’d recapture the whirlwind events of the week here while gratuitously name-dropping all the great people I met which is, I’m told, what one usually does on one’s blog.

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