Peter Wintonick: 1953 - 2013

Posted by Eugene Hernandez on 11.19.2013

When it opens tomorrow in Amsterdam, the leading international documentary festival known as IDFA will begin with a deep sense of sadness following the loss this week of doc titan Peter Wintonick.

An acclaimed filmmaker, Wintonick was a key ringleader at the annual event and ubiquitous at film festivals worldwide. He passed away in Montreal on Monday morning after a bout with a rare form of cancer. Wintonick died just a few hours after his life and work were celebrated at his local Montreal International Documentary Festival.

So vital were Wintonick's contributions to the field of documentary filmmaking - and the community that surrounds it - that his impact is difficult to quantify here.

"He knew everyone and everyone knew him for his passion, his commitment, his generosity," summed up Tom Perlmutter from the National Film Board of Canada in a statement yesterday hours after the death of Peter Wintonick. "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."

Wintonick was hailed as a leading Canadian filmmaker on Monday but his influence was felt worldwide.

He co-directed Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media with Mark Achbar in 1992 and Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment seven years later. Recently, Wintonick shepherded Chinese documentaries to audiences, including Lixin Fan's acclaimed Last Train Home just a few years ago. At countless festivals he was at the center of conversations on stage and off commanding an audience whether he was in front of a thousand people inside a cinema or chatting with a handful of folks later at a bar.

Peter Wintonick was, “A beautiful big man who lived a beautiful big life,” shared Anna Grieve and Martin Potter in a fitting online comment at Indiewire last night.

When some friends and I were developing the website that would eventually become Indiewire back in the mid-90s, Wintonick was an early supporter. He hosted an early incarnation of the online community on the Virtual Film Festival website leading up to the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. Over the years he continued to offer encouragement as the site grew. Such support was hardly unique to Indiewire, Wintonick nurtured countless people, projects and initiatives.

Born in Trenton, Ontario, Canada in 1953, Peter Wintonick worked at the intersection of media, technology and hybrid documentary filmmaking on a variety of established and emerging platforms. He was involved with more than 100 films and transmedia projects during a career that spanned 35 years. He was awarded a Laureate of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts by his home country and received numerous other honors in many places across the globe. Wintonick's work ranged from non-fiction films to television work, multimedia projects and even websites.

Five years ago at IDFA, Peter Wintonick and his daughter Mira Burt-Wintonick presented their co-directed doc, PilgrIMAGE, a travelogue following their visits to various international cinematic sites. The elder Wintonick called it a sort of “cine blog.”

Moved to tears as he stood at the front of the Amsterdam movie theater the night that it premiered, Peter Wintonick talked about the long tradition of docs about fathers and sons and noted there are, "very few films about fathers and daughters." He reflected that most of his films are about media, revealing his passion but admitting then that he probably wouldn’t ever tackle a film as personal.

Yet, in his absence, Wintonick’s daughter and their friends are planning to complete Be Here Now, a personal doc about the end of his life that was inspired by Wintonick’s cancer diagnosis.

Just as Peter Wintonick collaborated with his daughter, his own father encouraged him when he was young. 

He received his first camera at the young age of seven. It was given by his dad, Peter Wintonick's mom recalled yesterday in a touching online tribute. Last night, she repeated her late son's comment about getting the gift:

"I guess I never looked back."

Candian production company EyeSteelFilm is currently raising money online to defray Wintonick’s medical bills and support his final film.

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