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Don Owen

Director, Producer, Screenwriter
(b. September 19, 1935 Toronto, Ontario)

Don Owen was a key filmmaker of the 1960s, creating dramatic features — such as Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964) and The Ernie Game (1967) — that captured the spirit of the times and reflected a Canadian cinematic identity. These two films, in particular, are central to an understanding of the development of English-Canadian film and the use of direct cinema in fiction.

Owen was a poet and student of anthropology at the University of Toronto before embarking on his film career. He started out in cinema by writing for spon­sored films, and working as an assistant director and as a stagehand for the CBC. He joined the National Film Board in 1960, where he was part of a team of cinematographers on both La lutte (1961) and À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre (1962) prior to shooting his own first film, Runner, in 1962.

Owen left the NFB in 1969, but not before producing his best work in cinema. His seminal film Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964) has become legendary. The film developed after Owen was assigned to direct a half-hour documentary project about troubled youth. Ignoring these orders, he instead delivered an edgy, urgent drama about adolescent innocence and rebellion. The film was photographed and edited by John Spotton, and Peter Kastner played the young anti-hero. Kastner returned, cast in the father role, for the film’s sequel, Unfinished Business (1984), but Owen’s attempt to revisit the material 20 years later fell flat. The original was recognized as one of Canada’s best films ever made in the Toronto Festival of Festivals' 1984 poll.

In 1965, Owen collaborated on Ladies and Gentleman… Mr. Leonard Cohen with the renowned documentary filmmaker Donald Brittain. He followed up with two notable feature productions of his own: the intriguing Notes for a Film about Donna and Gail (1966) and the perceptive drama The Ernie Game, which won two Etrogs (now Genies) for best direction and best feature.

Owen has had a continuing interest in art, architecture and the Ontario artistic community. Many of the shorts he made in the late 1960s and early 1970s capture these subjects: Gallery: A View of Time (1967), Toronto Jazz (1964), Snow in Venice (1971), Gra­ham Coughtry in Ibiza (1971) and Cowboy and Indian (1972, about photographer Robert Markle and artist Gordon Rayner). However, even the most interesting of these later works — Cowboy and Indian and the much underrated Partners (1975) — are less innovative than the compelling films of his early career.

Film and video work includes

La lutte, 1961 (co-cinematographer)
Monique Leyrac in Concert, 1965 (director)
Two Men of Montreal, 1965 (co-director with Donald Brittain)
A Further Glimpse of Joey, 1966 (director)
Crimes of the Future, 1970 (actor)
Subway or Spain, 1970 (director; TV)
Changes, 1971 (director; TV)
Far from Home, 1971 (director; cinematographer; editor; producer; TV)
Graham Coughtry in Ibiza, 1971 (director; TV, completed but not telecast)
Faces of Ontario/Ontario Towns and Villages series, 1972-73 (director; cinematographer; editor; sound; producer)
Not Far from Home, 1973 (director; cinematographer; editor; sound; producer)
The St. Lawrence, 1973 (director; TV)
The Collaborators series, 1974 (director; TV, three episodes)
Holstein, 1978 (director; co-editor with William Carter; TV)
Spread Your Wings: Tanya's Puppet, 1981 (director; TV)
Danger Bay series, 1987 (director; TV, one episode)