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Allan King

Allan KingFebruary 6, 1930, Vancouver

Allan King has directed some of Canada’s most innovative documentaries, dramas and works that play on the border between these two modes of filmmaking. As a teenager, King helped run the Vancouver Film Society. After graduating with a degree in philosophy from the University of British Columbia, he began his film career in 1954 as an assistant editor at Vancouver’s first television station, CBUT. Two years later, King directed Skidrow (1956), an intimate portrait of Vancouver’s homeless people living with alcoholism. It gained international attention and helped define what would later be called the West Coast School of filmmaking.

King left CBUT in 1958 to live on the Spanish island of Ibiza, while he set up Allan King Associates in London. During the next eight years, he directed 19 documentaries and short dramatic films as well as other works for various CBC programs. Rickshaw (1960) was an unrelenting depiction of the poor in Calcutta. A Matter of Pride (1961), a portrait of a middle-class Canadian family devastated by unemployment, was denounced in Parliament by the Diefenbaker government. King’s television dramas include Joshua, A Nigerian Portrait (1963), a collaboration with Wole Soyinka, as well as two films written by Robert Goldston: Bjorn’s Inferno (1964) and Running Away Backwards (1964).

In 1966, King relocated to Toronto where he directed Warrendale, a cinéma-vérité film shot in a home for emotionally disturbed children. The CBC cancelled Warrendale’s 1967 broadcast, citing the obscenities used by the children. Amid the uproar that followed, Warrendale won a special award from the National Society of Film Critics (U.S.), a British Academy Award and the Prix art et essai at Cannes. King began producing what he labelled “actuality dramas” for theatrical release. A Married Couple (1969) was a study of the tempestuous relationship between two people who are particularly verbose. For Come On Children (1973), King organized his own hippie commune. The result was a deadly accurate time capsule of the Woodstock generation.

Finding it difficult to support himself with theatrical documentaries, King turned to drama. His anthology television dramas for the CBC were highlighted by an adaptation of an Alice Munro short story, Baptizing (1975); the filming of Carol Bolt’s plays, Red Emma (1976) and One Night Stand (1978); and Maria (1977), from an original script by Rick Salutin. In 1977, King made his first theatrical feature, the critically acclaimed adaptation of W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind. A second feature, Silence of the North (1981), made for Universal Studios, was marred by bitter battles over creative control.

His difficulties with Silence of the North piqued King’s interest in small group dynamics and led him to the Tavistock Institute. In conjunction with Tavistock’s experts, he devised a conference on unemployment that was recorded as the CBC documentary Who’s In Charge? (1983). The facilitators’ confrontational probing of the unemployed participants led to acrimonious debates in the press and an unsuccessful attempt by a small group of conference participants to prevent the documentary’s broadcast.

During the 1980s and 1990s, King directed more than 60 television series episodes. In 1993, he won a best director Gemini for an episode of Road to Avonlea, and Christopher Lloyd won an Emmy for best actor in another episode directed by King. In 1989, King made a third feature, Termini Station, and in 1998, returned to documentary with The Dragon’s Egg (1999), the story of a small group of Estonians and ethnic Russians who learn to work together in the barren landscape of post-communist Estonia.

A long-time advocate for Canadian film, King served as president of the Directors Guild of Canada from 1970 to 1972 and 1989 to 2002. He was honoured with a retrospective at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. King is currently teaching master classes and preparing a new documentary.

By Seth Feldman

Film and video work includes

Skidrow, 1956 (director; TV)
The Yukoners, 1956 (director; TV)
Gyppo Loggers, 1957 (director; TV)
The Pemberton Valley, 1957 (director; TV)
Portrait of a Harbour, 1957 (director; TV)
Saigon, 1959 (director; cinematographer)
Where Will They Go?, 1959 (director; TV)
Bullfight, 1960 (director; TV)
India: Revolution by Consent, 1960 (director; TV)
Rickshaw, 1960 (director; TV) 
Dreams, 1961 (director; TV)
A Matter of Pride, 1961 (director; writer; TV)
Morocco, Land of the Atlas, 1961 (director; TV)
Josef Drenters, 1961 (director; TV)
Three Yugoslavian Portraits, 1961 (director; TV)
The Pursuit of Happiness: Beyond the Welfare State, 1962 (director; TV)
The Field Day, 1963 (director)
Le grand Charles, 1963 (director, writer; TV)
Hamburg Germany, 1963 (director; TV)
Joshua, A Nigerian Portrait, 1963 (director; TV)
The Peacemakers, 1963 (director; writer; TV)
Bjorn's Inferno or The Devil to Play, 1964 (director; TV)
Horseman, Pass By, 1964 (director; TV)
Lynn Seymour, 1964 (director)
Our Dancing Export, 1964 (director; TV)
Running Away Backwards or Coming of Age in Ibizia, 1964 (director)
The Sound of Christopher Plummer, 1964 (director)
The Mostly Unlikely Millionaire, 1965 (director; writer)
Children in Conflict series, 1967 (director)
Warrendale, 1967 (director; producer; TV)
I Was Born Greek, 1968 (co-director with Bill Brayne; producer)
The New Woman, 1968 (director; producer)
Who is James Jones, 1968 (director; producer; TV)
A Married Couple, 1969 (director; writer; producer)
Mortimer Griffen, Shalinsky and How They Settled the Jewish Question, 1971 (director; TV)
Can I Count You In?, 1972 (director)
Delilah, 1972 (director; TV)
A Bird in the House, 1973 (director; TV)
Come on Children, 1973 (director)
The Collaborators series, 1974 (director; TV, one episode)
Pity the Poor Piper, 1974 (director; TV)
Baptizing, 1975 (director; TV)
Last of the Four-Letter Words, 1975 (director; TV)
Six War Years, 1975 (director; TV)
Red Emma, 1976 (director; TV)
Theatre in Canada, 1976 (director)
Maria, 1977 (director; TV)
On the Job, 1977 (director; TV)
Who Has Seen the Wind, 1977 (director; producer)
One Night Stand, 1978 (director; TV)
Silence of the North, 1981 (director)
Home Fires series, 1983 (director; TV, one episode)
Ready For Slaughter, 1983 (director; TV)
Who's in Charge?, 1983 (director)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, 19851988 (director; TV, 11 episodes)
Tucker and the Horsethief, 1985 (director)
Danger Bay series, 19861990 (director; TV, 10 episodes)
Friday the 13th series, 1987 (director; TV, one episode)
The Last Season, 1987 (director; TV)
The Twilight Zone series, 1988 (director; TV, one episode)
Philip Marlow, Private Eye series, 1989 (director; TV, one episode)
Termini Station, 1989 (director; producer)
Neon Rider series, 1990 (director; TV, one episode)
All the King’s Men, 1991 (director; TV)
Kurt Vonnegut’s Monkey House, 1991 (director; TV)
Lightning Force series, 1991 (director; TV, three episodes)
Road to Avonlea series, 19911996 (director; TV, 10 episodes)
By Way of the Stars series, 1993 (director; TV, four episodes)
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues series, 19941995 (director; TV, five episodes)
Ready or Not, 19941997 (director; TV, five episodes)
Leonardo: A Dream of Flight, 1998 (director; TV)
The Dragon’s Egg, 1999 (director; producer; TV)
Twice in a Lifetime series, 19992000 (director; TV, five episodes)
Dying at Grace, 2003 (director; producer)
Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company, 2005 (director; producer)
EMPz 4 Life, 2006 (director) 

Note: Updated to July 19, 2006.

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