Peter Wintonick, Canadian Documentarian, Dies at 60

By Tom White

Peter Wintonick, whose exemplary work in documentary was surpassed only by his passionate championing of the documentary form, died yesterday  in Montreal. He was 60 and had been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer.

Wintonick's best known work included Manufacturing Dissent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992), directed with Mark Achbar, and Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment (1999). According to a press release from the National Film Board of Canada, with whom Wintonick worked closely for decades, Manufacturing Consent was one of the most successful documentaries in Canadian history, earning over 20 awards. Cinema Verite: Defining the Movement deftly captured one of most vital periods in documentary history and reflected Wintonick's deep, abiding zeal for cinematic history.

Other work included The QuébeCanada Complex (1998), which earned  the Canadian Association of Journalists Award for Best Documentary for its bold and humorous look at the Quebec/Canada national question; Seeing Is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News, a 2002 collaboration with transmedia pioneer Katerina Cizek, in which the two filmmakers embark on a global journey to explore the impact of the then emerging digital revolution on documentary media; and, in a seemingly unintended valediction and passing of the torch, PilgrIMAGE, which he made in 2009 with his daughter, filmmaker Mira Burt-Wintonick, a trans-generational trip through the history of cinema and the future of new media.

Wintonick was also a producer and distributor. His Montreal-based company, Necessary Illusions Productions, which he headed with  Francis Miquet, not only handled an impressive roster of social issue documentaries, but also mentored scores of filmmakers. Wintonick also served as an executive producer at EyeSteelFilm, working on such films as China Heavyweight.

Wintonick was a congenial presence at documentary festivals around the world, including Hot Docs, IDFA, Thessaloniki and a host of others. Honored in Canada in 2006 with a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, he was one of the founders of DocAgora, an international think tank and open website devoted to digital documentary media, and was invited by the premier of South Australia to be a "Thinker in Residence," examining the future of documentaries and the digital revolution. He was also international editor at POV, the publication of the Documentary Organization of Canada (for a sample of his scintillating work, click here.).

"Peter was the best friend a documentary film festival could have—he poured his heart into supporting filmmakers and building camaraderie through the international doc community," said Hot Docs executive director Brett Hendrie, in a statement. "The entire Hot Docs family is deeply and personally saddened by this major loss, yet we know his great work and the many friendships and partnerships he helped to foster will endure."

NFB Chairperson Tom Perlmutter added, "Peter is [so hard to say ‘was'] one of the greats of the documentary world. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him for his passion, his commitment, his generosity. He created a significant body of work, but his contribution was far greater than the sum of his films. It encompassed a larger view of the documentary as quintessential to the moral well-being of the universe. He expressed this in conversation, in his writings, in his globe-trotting mentoring and programming activities, and always with a sharp wit that could take your breath away with the subtlety of the thought and the sheer joy in his manner of expression."