Peter Wintonick, who passed away in November, was one of Canada’s most important documentary filmmakers. He was also one of the most valued supporters of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF), which this year runs from March 14-23 in Greece’s northern port city.
Wintonick’s cinematic legacy is naturally commemorated by organizers who have brought together some of his most emblematic work for the event’s 16th edition. They have also established a new audience award in his name that is to be presented to the best foreign feature of the festival.
“[Wintonick] will be remembered for his consistency, humanitarianism and clarity of thought. He made a major contribution to the field of documentary filmmaking because he appreciated the genre as a news medium and had a keen interest in public issues,” TDF director Dimitris Eipidis told Kathimerini English Edition.
Born in Trenton, Ontario, in 1953, Wintonick studied journalism and German philosophy at Carleton University before surrendering to his inner calling and taking a two-year post-graduate course on film production at Algonquin College. In the mid-1970s, he joined Montreal’s International Cinemedia Center, mostly editing sponsored work and that of Hungarian-born Canadian director George Kaczender, before moving into documentary filmmaking.
Wintonick is best known for the 1992 documentary “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.” Co-directed with Mark Achbar, the near three-hour film set out to deconstruct contemporary news media through the eyes of the famous American linguist and political critic. The movie screened in more than 300 cities around the world and grabbed 22 awards, becoming the most successful Canadian documentary feature in history until the release of “The Corporation” in 2003.
In 2000, Wintonick directed “Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment,” a piece about the direct cinema style from the 1922 silent docudrama “Nanook of the North” to “The Blair Witch Project” – a highly controversial case of subversive faux direct cinema. Two years later, he made “Seeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News,” a techno-optimistic take on the transformative effect of cheap camcorders and digital media on grassroots political activism.
In 2006, Wintonick won the Canadian Governor General’s Award in visual and media arts. He was the co-founder of the independent production company Necessary Illusions, and one of the people behind DocAgora, a filmmaker collective promoting cutting-edge digital strategies at various film festivals.
Up until his last trip to Greece in March last year, Wintonick turned up at the festival wearing many different hats: director, producer, reporter, lecturer, or member of the FIPRESCI jury.
“His steady presence at Thessaloniki, ever since its very early days, was a confirmation that we were doing it right,” Eipidis said. “It’s a huge loss, also for me personally. I was so used to seeing him here and at festivals abroad. He would always show up.”
In 2013 Wintonick was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of liver caner. The news prompted him to complete a long-elusive project, “Be Here Now,” which he left unfinished. The film, which draws from footage shot during the course of his life, explores the world’s imagined utopias, as well as his own personal “Wintopia.” The people at Eyesteelfilm have launched a crowdfunding campaign to complete the project with the help of his daughter Mira Burt-Wintonick, who works as a radio and film producer.
Wintonick died at a Montreal hospital on the morning of November 18. He was 60 years old.