(b. March 13, 1938 Toronto, Ontario)
Throughout his long and dedicated career, Peter Pearson played many key roles in the development of English-Canadian film. As a talented writer and director in the sixties and seventies, his movies and television dramas received nineteen Canadian Film Awards – more than any other Canadian director – and a slew of ACTRA awards. His two most notable features – The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar (1968) and Paperback Hero (1973) – are landmarks in the English-Canadian narrative tradition. As a pugnacious proselytizer and activist in the cause of Canadian cinema, he continued to champion his vision for the industry through the seventies and eighties and into his tenure as the head of Telefilm Canada.
Pearson graduated in political science at the University of Toronto, studied in the advanced television production programme at Ryerson Polytechnic and trained in directing at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome. He began his professional career as a newspaper journalist with the Timmins Daily Press in 1961, but soon moved into television. From 1964 to 1966, he worked in various capacities – director, producer, writer, story editor – on the highly regarded CBC series Document and This Hour Has Seven Days.
After joining the National Film Board in 1966, Pearson made thirteen films, including Saul Alinsky Went to War (1968) and his seminal debut film, The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar (1968), which won eight Canadian Film Awards, including Film of the Year. From 1968 to 1972, he helped run Milne-Pearson Productions, which made industrial and sponsored films, and also served as president of Oro Films Ltd., which produced both industrial and commercial films and developed dramatic properties. From 1973 to 1980, he maintained an ongoing consulting business, advising industry and government in the areas of broadcasting and film policy.
In 1973, Pearson directed Paperback Hero, which received three Canadian Film Awards and is considered by many to be the best film ever made about life on the Canadian prairies. In the seventies, he was still actively making movies, and from 1972 to 1975 he served as president of the Directors’ Guild of Canada and as chairman of the fifteen thousand-member Council of Canadian Filmmakers; he was a key agitator, persistently lobbying for theatre quotas, more Canadian content in the film and television industries and more participation in production by foreign-based companies.
Continually frustrated by the anemic state of the Canadian film industry and the lack of opportunity it afforded, Pearson went on to direct innovative and often controversial dramas for For the Record, including The Insurance Man from Ingersoll (1975), which won two Canadian Film Awards, Kathy Karuks is a Grizzly Bear (1976), The Tar Sands (1977), and Snowbirds (1981). Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed sued over The Tar Sands. Although no liability was ever established, the CBC willingly surpressed the film forever in an out-of-court settlement.
After teaching film for one year at Queen’s University (1982-83), he headed The Canadian Film Development Corporation's (now Telefilm Canada) newly-created Broadcast Program Development Fund from 1983 to 1985. Under his tenure, the Broadcast Fund achieved remarkable success – its investment in some 174 projects generated economic activity of over $275 million and created more than six hundred hours of independently-produced Canadian programming. He then served as Executive Director of Telefilm from 1985 to 1987.
Also a skillful scriptwriter, Pearson’s screenplays have included Snowbird, adapted with Margaret Atwood from his original story, and One Man, which he co-wrote with Robin Spry and which won the Canadian Film Award for Original Screenplay. In addition to the latter award, Pearson has personally won four other Canadian Film Awards, including Film of the Year, Best TV Drama and Best Non-Feature Direction for The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar and Best Theatrical Short for Along These Lines (1974). He was also nominated for two Gemini Awards; in 1987 for Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Miniseries (for Heaven on Earth) and in 1990 for Best Documentary Series (for Ken Dryden’s Home Game).
Film and video work includes
Queen in Charlottetown, This Hour Has Seven Days series, 1964 (director; TV)
Mastroianni, Compass series, 1965, (director; writer; producer; TV)
Sex Ads, This Hour Has Seven Days series, 1966 (director; writer; TV)
This Blooming Business of Bilingualism, 1966 (director; writer; TV)
Inmate Training: Part 1, Penitentiaries Staff Training series, 1966 (director)
Inmate Training: Part 2, Penitentiaries Staff Training series, 1966 (director)
Whatever Happened to Them All?, 1966 (director; writer; producer)
The Accessible Arctic, 1967 (director)
The North Has Changed, 1967 (director)
Chain of Command, Leadership [Navy] series, 1967 (director)
Compassionate Leave?, Leadership [Navy] series, 1967 (director)
The Defaulter, Leadership [Navy] series, 1967 (director)
Encounter with Saul Alinsky - Part 1: CYC Toronto, Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle series, 1967 (director)
Ecounter with Saul Alinsky - Part 2: Rama Indian Reserve, Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle series, 1967 (director)
A Question of Priority, Leadership [Navy] series, 1967 (director)
The Tactless One, Leadership [Navy] series, 1967 (director)
Building an Organization, Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle series, 1968 (co-cinematographer with Tony Ianzelo)
Deciding to Organize, Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle series, 1968 (co-director with Bonnie Sherr Klein)
People and Power, Challenge for Change series, 1968 (co-director with Bonnie Sherr Klein)
Saul Alinsky Went to War, Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle series, 1968 (director)
Through Conflict to Negotiation, 1968 (co-director with Bonnie Sherr Klein)
If I Don't Agree, Must I Go Away?, Document series, 1969 (director; writer; producer; TV)
The Dowry, 1969 (director; writer)
Adventures in Rainbow Country, series, 1970 (director; TV, 2 episodes)
Seasons in the Mind, 1970 (director; producer)
The Beachcombers, 1937 (director; TV, 2 episodes)
Only God Knows, 1974 (director)
A Thousand Miles of Holidays, 1974 (director; writer)
Along These Lines, 1974 (director; writer; producer)
The Insurance Man from Ingersoll, For the Record '76 series, 1975 (director; co-writer with Norman Hartley; TV)
Kathy Karuks is a Grizzly Bear, For the Record series, 1976 (director; TV)
Something Ventured, series, 1977 (director; TV, multiple episodes)
Sidestreet, series, 1977 (director; TV, multiple episodes)
The Chairman, The Canadian Establishment series, 1980 (director; writer)
One Man, 1977 (co-writer with Robin Spry, Peter Madden)
The Littlest Hobo, series, 1979 (director; TV, multiple episodes)
Jack London's Tales of the Klondike series, 1980 (director; TV)
Snowbirds, For the Record series, 1981 (director; TV)
The National Crime Test, 1982 (director; writer, TV)
A corps perdu, 1988 (actor)
Mario, Mike and The Great Gretzky, 1988 (co-director with France Corbeil; writer)
Heaven on Earth, 1987 (co-writer with Margaret Atwood; TV)
Bananas from Sunny Quebec, 1993 (director)
L'Or et le Papier, 1994 (director)
Big Wolf on Campus, series, 1999-2002 (executive producer; 44 episodes)
Seriously Weird, 2003-2004 (executive producer; TV, 26 episodes)