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Sturla Gunnarsson

Sturla Gunnarssonb. 1952, Reykjavik, Iceland

Resilient, opinionated, eager to defy convention and often driven by a passionate social conscience, Sturla Gunnarsson is a highly versatile, internationally acclaimed director who personifies the internationalist ethic, social-realist tradition and balancing act between fiction and documentary typical of English-Canadian cinema.

Born in Iceland and raised in Vancouver from the age of seven, Gunnarsson completed undergraduate studies in English literature and graduate work in film studies at the University of British Columbia. After his graduate film, A Day Much Like the Others (1979), won top honours at the Canadian Student Film Festival and the European Student Film Festival and was screened at the Museum of Modern Art, Gunnarsson moved to Toronto to begin directing for the National Film Board. His first film at the NFB, After the Axe (1981), was an innovative docudrama that earned wide critical praise, won five international awards and was nominated for an Academy Award® for Feature Length Documentary.

Gunnarsson then directed two award-winning dramas for Atlantis Films before producing and directing the cinema vérité documentary Final Offer (1985), an NFB-CBC co-production that won eight international awards – including the Banff Television Festival’s Prix Grand and the Genie Award for Feature Length Documentary – and was heralded by Cinema Canada as "nothing less than a milestone in Canadian documentary history." He went on to direct episodes for numerous Canadian, American and British television series, then produced and directed his first theatrical feature, the much-admired Diplomatic Immunity (1991), about foreign aid workers in El Salvador, which won the Grand Prize at the Cannes winter festival and received four Genie nominations.

During Diplomatic Immunity’s Latin American shoot, Gunnarsson contracted a severe case of hepatitis. After a full recovery, he went on to direct several major films for Canadian television, including The Diary of Evelyn Lau (1993), which launched Sandra Oh’s career, and Gerrie & Louise (1997), which won a Gemini Award and an International Emmy Award for Best Documentary. He followed that with his adaptation of Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey (1998), which garnered twelve Genie nominations and won three awards. Gunnarsson directed three more movies for television before helming Rare Birds (2001), which was scheduled to have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival® on September 11, 2001 (a lower profile screening was rescheduled). Though it was another two years before the film was released internationally, it received five Genie nominations and won four Directors Guild of Canada Awards, including Outstanding Achievement in a Feature Film.

An ardent nationalist and advocate of screen quotas, Gunnarsson has been consistently outspoken against the plight of distribution for English-Canadian films: "The irony is, we make these films and throw them into a black hole." He continues to direct for Canadian and American television, helming award-winning movies like The Man Who Saved Christmas (2002) and 100 Days in the Jungle (2002) and episodes of such recent series as Snakes and Ladders and Wild Card. He is currently working on a big-screen adaptation of Beowulf (set for a 2005 release), a Canada/Iceland/United Kingdom co-production he describes as Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner meets Lord of the Rings.

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

Country Music Nitely, 1978 (director; TV)
A Day Much Like the Others, 1979 (director; writer; producer)
Tenderizer, 1981 (co-cinematographer with Rolf Cutts)
After the Axe, 1981 (director; co-producer with Steve Lucas)
The Bamboo Brush, Rainbow series, 1982 (director)
The Truesteel Affair, 1983 (director)
Talking Dirty, 1984 (director)
Final Offer, 1985 (co-director with Robert Collison; co-producer with John Kramer, Robert Collison) a.k.a. Final Offer: Bob White and the Canadian Auto Workers Fight for Independence
The Emissary, The Ray Bradbury Theatre series, 1985 (director; TV)
Airwaves series, 1986 (director; TV, thirteen episodes)
Animal Lovers, Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, 1987 (director; TV)
Tragedy Tonight, Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, 1987 (director; TV)
Where Is Here?, 1987 (director; co-producer with Barrie Howells, David MacFarlane, Bill Nemtin, Adam Symansky)
9B series, 1988 (director; TV, five episodes)
Stranger in Possum Meadows, The Twilight Zone series, 1988 (director; TV)
Diplomatic Immunity, 1991 (director; co-producer with Steve Lucas)
Cold Comfort, North of 60 series, 1993 (director; TV)
The Diary of Evelyn Lau, 1993 (director; TV)
We the Jury, 1996 (director; TV)
Mother Tucker: The Diana Kilmury Story, 1996 (director; TV) a.k.a. Diana Kilmury: Teamster
Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way, 1997 (director; TV)
Gerrie & Louise, 1997 (director; co-producer with David York, Phyllis Brown; narrator; TV)
The Imposter, Dead Man’s Gun series, 1997 (director; TV)
Such a Long Journey, 1998 (director)
Dangerous Evidence: The Lori Jackson Story, 1999 (director; TV)
Ricky Nelson: Original Teen Idol, 1999 (director; TV)
Scorn, 2000 (director; TV)
Rare Birds, 2001 (director)
100 Days in the Jungle, 2002 (director; TV)
The Man Who Saved Christmas, 2002 (director; TV)
No Bull, Wild Card series, 2003 (director; TV)
Snakes and Ladders series, 2004 (director; TV, six episodes)

Note:  Updated to April 5, 2004

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