Allan W. King dies at 79

Canadian filmmaker worked on docs, TV

Canadian filmmaker Allan W. King, a respected and controversial documentarian and helmer of narrative film and TV, died June 15 of a brain tumor in Toronto. He was 79.

King’s early documentaries such as “Warrendale,” “A Married Couple” and “Come on Children” drew attention for their cinema verite approach. He later directed episodes of the Emmy-winning series “Road to Avonlea” and went to shoot several more well-received documentaries in his seventies. King served as president of the Canadian Director’s Guild through the 1990s and retrospectives of his work were screened at the New York Museum of Modern Art and in several other cities.

Born in Vancouver, King graduated from the U. of British Columbia and started his career in the 1950s at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Together with colleagues Richard Leiterman, Bill Brayne, Chris Wangler, Peter Moseley, and Roger Graef, he made current affairs, profile and documentary films around the world for PBS, CVC, Granada and the BBC.

His first major feature documentary work was “Warrendale” in 1967; a film about emotionally disturbed children.

King followed this success with “A Married Couple,” featured in the Cannes Director’s Fortnight in 1970.  His 1973 documentary “Come on Children” completed the trilogy.

King described his style as “actuality drama — filming the drama of everyday life as it happens, spontaneously without direction, interviews or narrative.”

His first dramatic feature film, “Who Has Seen The Wind,” won the Grand Prix in 1976 at the Paris International Film Festival and the Golden Reel Award for the highest grossing Canadian film of the year. In 1983, he returned to the documentary form with a controversial film on unemployment, “Who’s in Charge?”

King returned to documentaries with “The Dragon’s Egg” (1999), which dealt with the coming of democracy to Eastern Europe through the experiences of a small group of Estonians.

His later films included “Dying at Grace” (2003) and “Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company” (2005) which dealt respectively with issues of aging and Alzheimer’s; and “EMPz 4 Life” in 2006, which explored the racial stereotyping of young black men in Toronto.  King was developing his last film, “Endings,” when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in April of this year.  

A memorial will be held at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles Street West, Toronto, on June 22 at 11 a.m.

He is survived by his wife, Colleen Murphy; four children; six grandchildren; and a sister.

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