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John Spotton

John Spottonb. 1927, Toronto, Ontario; d. March 3, 1991, Cuba


During his long career as a pragmatic, utilitarian filmmaker, the gracious and professional John Spotton played a major role in the development of direct-cinema techniques in the On the Spot series, several of the films in the Candid Eye series, and in the hand-held camera usage in Don Owen’s Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964), which he edited.

For over four decades, Spotton functioned as a jack of all trades at the NFB, producing, directing, shooting and editing films. Although loyal to his bureaucratic masters, he was not averse to subversive activity, most notably in the case of Don Owen’s Nobody Waved Good-bye. As Owen’s cinematographer and editor, Spotton was complicit in the secretive expansion of the film, which morphed from a proposed half-hour documentary on juvenile delinquents into a groundbreaking feature drama.

Spotton shot many of Tom Daly’s memorable direct-cinema efforts for Unit B and edited such seminal NFB films as Terence Macartney-Filgate’s The Back-Breaking Leaf (1959), Colin Low’s The Days of Whiskey Gap (1961) and Roman Kroitor and Wolf Koenig’s Lonely Boy (1962). He directed the classic short Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965), co-directed the moving Holocaust film Memorandum (1965) with Donald Brittain and produced Sturla Gunnarsson’s award-winning documentary Final Offer (1985).

One of the earliest members of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (CSC), he joined the NFB in 1949 following a brief period as assistant cameraman with Shelly Films in Toronto and remained there until his death, with the exception of a period from 1970 to 1972 when he worked with Potterton Productions. He was known for offering unfailing support and encouragement to young filmmakers and served as executive producer of the NFB’s Ontario Centre from 1982 to 1988.

In 1991, at the age of sixty-four, Spotton drowned while on vacation in Cuba. The cinema at the NFB’s Ontario Centre in downtown Toronto was renamed the John Spotton Theatre in his memory.

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

Fighting Forest Fires with Hand Tools, 1951 (co-cinematographer with Lawrence Cherry)
Sing with the Commodores No. 1, 1951 (co-cinematographer with Walter A. Sutton, Lorne C. Batchelor)
Sing with the Commodores No. 2, 1951 (co-cinematographer with Walter A. Sutton, Lorne C. Batchelor)
Sing with the Commodores No. 3, 1951 (co-cinematographer with Walter A. Sutton, Lorne C. Batchelor)
Epidemic Foot and Mouth Disease: Saskatchewan, 1952, 1952 (co-cinematographer with Charles Beddoe)
Eye Witness No. 39, Eye Witness series, 1952 (co-cinematographer with Walford Hewitson, Don Peters, Douglas Wilkinson, et al.)
Eye Witness No. 44, Eye Witness series, 1952 (co-cinematographer with Gil LaRoche, John Foster, Thomas Farley, et al.)
The Puppeteers, Faces of Canada series, 1952 (cinematographer)
Trade Fair, 1952 (cinematographer)
Eye Witness No. 49, Eye Witness series, 1953 (co-cinematographer with Walford Hewitson, Lorne C. Batchelor, Thomas Farley, et al.)
Eye Witness No. 50, Eye Witness series, 1953 (co-cinematographer with Stephen Greenlees, Gil LaRoche, Lorne C. Batchelor)
Forage Harvesting, 1953 (co-cinematographer with Jean Roy)
Pole Barns and Milking Parlours, 1953 (co-cinematographer with Grant Crabtree)
Royal Canadian Ordonance Corps: Field Operations, 1953 (cinematographer)
Security Depends on You, 1953 (cinematographer)
The Story of Peter and the Potter, 1953 (cinematographer)
Surface Silos, 1953 (co-cinematographer with Jean Roy)
The World at Your Feet, Canada Carries On series, 1953 (co-cinematographer with Grant Crabtree)
Auto Production, 1954 (cinematographer)
Aviation Medicine, 1954 (cinematographer)
College in the Wilds, Canada Carries On series, 1954 (cinematographer)
Deep Sleep, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
The Doll Factory, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
Eye Witness No. 67, Eye Witness series, 1954 (co-cinematographer with Jean-Marie Couture)
Food and Drug Patrol, On the Spot series, 1954 (co-cinematographer with Walter A. Sutton)
Frontier College, 1954 (cinematographer)
Hidden Power, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
Javanese Dancing, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
The Magic Men, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
Salt Cod, 1954 (cinematographer)
Story of a Newspaper, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
The Traffic Cop, On the Spot series, 1954 (cinematographer)
Alcoholism, On the Spot series, 1955 (cinematographer)
Community Responsibilities, What's Your Opinion? series, 1955 (cinematographer)
Food Facts, On the Spot series, 1955 (cinematographer)
Grain Handling in Canada, 1955 (cinematographer)
Leaving It to the Experts, What's Your Opinion? series, 1955 (cinematographer)
Designed for Living, 1956 (cinematographer)
Eye Witness No. 84, Eye Witness series, 1956 (co-cinematographer with Hector Lemieux)
Aural Null, Radio Navigation series, 1957 (co-cinematographer with Douglas Roberts)
Battalion Intelligence Section, 1957 (cinematographer)
Being Different, What Do You Think? series, 1957 (cinematographer)
Canadian Profile, 1957 (cinematographer)
Choosing a Leader, What Do You Think? series, 1957 (cinematographer)
Feathers in the Wind, 1957 (cinematographer)
The Jet Beacon Let-Down, Radio Navigation series, 1957 (cinematographer)
Log Drive, Perspective series, 1957 (co-cinematographer with Jean Roy, Peter Kelly)
The Standard Range Approach, Radio Navigation series, 1957 (co-cinematographer with Douglas MacKay)
A Day in June, 1958 (co-cinematographer with Michel Brault, Claude Jutra, Terence Macartney-Filgate, et al.)
The General Foreman, The Nature of Work series/World in Action series, 1958 (cinematographer)
The Hands That Heal, 1958 (cinematographer)
The Man on the Assembly Line, The Nature of Work series/World in Action series, 1958 (cinematographer)
Pilgrimage, 1958 (co-producer with Tom Daly, Wolf Koenig, Roman Kroitor)
Railroaders, Snowscapes/Social Geography series, 1958 (cinematographer)
Alternate version; Railroaders, Canada Carries On series, 1960 (cinematographer)
River of Wood, 1958 (co-cinematographer with Jean Roy, Peter Kelly)
The Skilled Worker, The Nature of Work/World in Action series, 1958 (cinematographer)
Treasure of the Forest, Canada Carries On series, 1958 (cinematographer)
The Back-Breaking Leaf, Candid Eye series/Documentary 60 series, 1959 (editor)
City Out of Time, 1959 (editor)
Fishermen, Social Geography series, 1959 (cinematographer)
The St. Lawrence Seaway, 1959 (co-cinematographer with Robert Humble, Ron Alexander, Eugene Boyko, et al.)
The Story of the St. Lawrence Seaway, 1959 (co-cinematographer with Robert Humble, Ron Alexander, Eugene Boyko, et al.)
Circle of the Sun, 1960 (co-cinematographer with Dalton Muir)
I Was a Ninety-pound Weakling, Documentary 60 series, 1960 (editor)
The Days of Whiskey Gap, 1961 (co-cinematographer with Jim Wilson, Roy Nolan)
Lonely Boy, a.k.a. Paul Anka, 1961 (editor)
The Most, 1962 (co-cinematographer with John Foster)
Runner, 1962 (co-cinematographer with Guy Borremans)
The Edge of the Barrens, 1964 (editor)
The Hutterites, 1964 (cinematographer; editor)
Legault's Place, 1964 (cinematographer)
Nobody Waved Good-bye, 1964 (cinematographer; co-editor with Donald Ginsberg)
Buster Keaton Rides Again, 1965 (director; cinematographer; editor)
High Steel, 1965 (cinematographer)
Memorandum, 1965 (co-director with Donald Brittain; cinematographer; editor)
Two Men of Montreal, 1965 (co-cinematographer with Paul Leach, Laval Fortier, Roger Racine)
The Forest, 1966 (director; editor)
The Long Haul Men, 1966 (editor)
Never a Backward Step, 1966 (co-director with Donald Brittain, Arthur Hammond)
The White Ship, 1966 (editor)
After Eve, 1967 (editor)
This Land, NFB Presents series, 1968 (editor)
Activator One, 1969 (director)
Of Many People, 1970 (co-producer with Robert Verrall; co-editor with Colin Low, Malca Gillson)
Pillar of Wisdom, 1970 (co-cinematographer with Paul Leach, Martin Duckworth, Wolf Koenig)
Kainai, 1973 (co-cinematographer with Jacques Fogel, Savas Kalogeras, Don Virgo)
Circus World, 1974 (co-cinematographer with Graeme Ferguson)
Have I Ever Lied to You Before?, 1976 (director)
The Music Makers, Canada Vignettes series, 1979 (producer)
Meet the Martins, 1979 (co-producer with William Pettigrew)
A Pinto for the Prince, 1979 (co-director with Colin Low)
Viking Visitors to North America, 1979 (producer)
Atmos, 1980 (co-producer with Michael Sullivan)
Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community, 1983 (executive producer)
Prisoners of Debt: Inside the Global Banking Crisis, 1983 (executive producer)
Thanks for the Ride, 1983 (executive producer)
Class of Promise, 1985 (executive producer)
Dad's House, Mom's House, 1985 (executive producer)
Final Offer, 1985 (executive producer)
The Hospital, Finding Our Way series, 1985 (executive producer)
Left Out, Finding Our Way series, 1985 (executive producer)
Pitchmen, 1985 (executive producer)
The Umpire, Finding Our Way series, 1985 (executive producer)
Where's Pete?, Finding Our Way series, 1986 (executive producer)
Hayley's Home Movie, Finding Our Way series, 1987 (executive producer)
Mr. Nobody, The Elderly at Risk series, 1987 (executive producer)
No Way! Not Me, The Feminization of Poverty series, 1987 (executive producer)
For Richer, For Poorer, The Feminization of Poverty series, 1988 (executive producer)
A House Divided: Caregiver Stress and Elder Abuse, The Elderly at Risk series, 1988 (executive producer)
Peep and the Big Wide World, 1988 (executive producer)
Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left - Part 1 - International Background - Canadian Roots, Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left series, 1989 (executive producer)
Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left - Part 2 - Born of Hard Times, Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left series, 1989 (executive producer)
Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left - Part 3 - Falling Apart and Getting Together, Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left series, 1989 (executive producer)
Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left - Part 4 - New Party, Old Problems Roots, Imperfect Union: Canadian Labour and the Left series, 1989 (executive producer)
Media and Society: Advertising and Consumerism, Media and Society series, 1989 (producer)
Media and Society: Cultural Sovereignty/Shaping Information, Media and Society series, 1989 (producer)
Media and Society: Images of Women, Media and Society series, 1989 (producer)
Transplant, the Breath of Life, 1990 (co-producer with Elias Petras)
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary – What Is a Documentary? Ways of Storytelling, Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary series, 1993 (co-producer with Michael Allder)
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary – Shaping Reality, Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary series, 1993 (co-producer with Michael Allder)
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary – The Politics of Truth, Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary series, 1993 (co-producer with Michael Allder)
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary – The Candid Eye?, Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary series, 1993 (co-producer with Michael Allder)
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary – Voices of Experience, Voices for Change Part 1, Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary series, 1993 (co-producer with Michael Allder)
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary – Voices of Experience, Voices for Change Part 2, The Poetry of Motion, Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary series, 1993 (co-producer with Michael Allder)
Village of Idiots, 1999 (co-producer with Dennis Murphy, Michael Scott, John Taylor, et al.)

Note: Updated to Dec. 1, 2005


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