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Michael Spencer

Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Administrator
(b. November 9, 1919 London, United Kingdom)

Michael Spencer worked for two decades as a director, producer and administrator at the National Film Board before playing a key role in the development of the feature-film industry as executive director of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC, now Telefilm Canada) from 1969 to 1978.

Spencer came to Canada from Britain in 1939 and joined the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit as a cameraman and director. He joined the NFB in 1941 and in 1950 was appointed head of Unit D (responsible for international affairs and special projects). He worked as a producer from 1946 to 1956, served as head of the Ottawa office from 1956 to 1960 and was Director of Planning from 1960 to 1968. In 1964, he was a member of the NFB team that negotiated Canada’s first international co-production agreement with France.

As the NFB’s Director of Planning, Spencer played a major role in the discussions that led to the establishment of the CFDC in 1967; he wrote the two-page memo delivered to Cabinet in 1965 that eventually led to the formation of the corporation and was considered the organization’s unofficial architect. He served first as acting secretary and was named executive director in 1969, remaining until his resignation in 1978 (he returned to the industry as a producer with partner Pierre Lamy).

Opinions differ markedly about the quality of Spencer’s contribution: his repeated attempts to institute a box-office levy and a theatre quota were halted by American influence and indifference on the part of Canadian politicians, and the tax-shelter era that he instigated with the introduction of the Capital Cost Allowance in 1975 is generally regarded as a dark age of Canadian cinema, though it did result in a huge increase in production that benefited many in terms of experience. In any scenario, there is no doubt that the film industry in Canada was transformed during his tenure. Although chronically underfunded, under Spencer’s watch the CFDC contributed funds to such seminal works as Goin’ Down the Road (1970), The Rowdyman (1972), Paperback Hero (1973), The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) and many of the Quebec features of the time.

In 1992, Spencer received the Air Canada Genie Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2004 he was awarded the Bill Hilson Award for outstanding contribution to the development of the motion-picture industry in Canada by the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (CSC). He is author of the 2003 book Hollywood North: Creating the Canadian Motion Picture Industry.

Film and video work includes

Maple Sugar Time, 1941 (cinematographer)
Peace River, 1941 (co-director with James Beveridge; co-producer with James Beveridge)
The Safety Supervisor, 1946 (producer)
Bluebloods from Canada, 1948 (producer)
The Navy Files, 1948 (co-producer with Robert Anderson)
Royal Canadian Infantry Corps, 1948 (producer)
Stuff for Stuff, 1948 (co-producer with Philip Ragan)
Arctic Dog Team, 1949 (producer)
Birds Near Home, 1949 (producer)
Birds of Canada No. 3, 1949 (producer)
Birds of Canada No. 4, 1949 (producer)
Birds of Canada No. 5, 1949 (producer)
1867 and After, 1950 (producer)
4 Songs by 4 Gentlemen, 1950 (producer)
Birds of Canada No. 6, 1950 (producer)
Business in the Mail Bag, 1950 (producer)
Cadet Holiday, 1950 (co-producer with Sydney Newman)
Date of Birth, 1950 (producer)
The Gentle Art of Film Projection, 1950 (producer)
Historic Highway, Lower Canada, 1950 (producer)
Historic Highway, Upper Canada, 1950 (producer)
How to Build an Igloo, a.k.a. Arctic Notebook No. 1: How to Build an Igloo, 1950 (producer)
The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, 1950 (producer)
Teamwork: Past and Present, 1950 (producer)
Birds of Canada's Mountain Parks, 1951 (producer)
Birds of Prince Albert Park, 1951 (producer)
Birds of the Seashore, 1951 (producer)
Mammals of Canada's Mountain Parks, 1951 (producer)
Mammals of Canada's Prairie Playground, 1951 (producer)
Milk-Made, 1951 (producer)
Royal Canadian Army Cadets, 1951 (co-producer with Sydney Newman)
Oyster Man, 1951 (producer)
Stagecoach to the Stars, 1951 (producer)
Stamp of Approval, 1951 (producer)
Land of the Long Day, 1952 (producer)
Maps for the Army, 1952 (producer)
The Son, 1952 (producer)
Snow Goose, 1952 (producer)
Tomorrow's Officers, 1952 (producer)
Western Wheat, 1952 (producer)
With the Canadians in Korea, 1952 (producer)
Angotee: Story of an Eskimo Boy, 1953 (producer)
Birds of the Prairie Marshes, 1953 (writer; producer)
Miniature Range Tank Gunnery, 1953 (producer)
Point Pelee: Nature Sanctuary, 1953 (producer)
R.C.E.M.E. Workshop in the Field, 1953 (producer)
Royal Canadian Ordinance Corps: Field Operations, 1953 (producer)
Security Depends on You, 1953 (producer)
Some Familiar Birds, 1953 (producer)
The World at Your Feet, 1953 (producer)
The World at Your Feet (Revised), 1953 (producer)
You're on Parade, 1953 (producer)
The Honest Truth, 1954 (producer)
Men in Armour, 1954 (producer)
The Lively Pond, 1956 (writer)
World in a Marsh, 1956 (writer; producer)
Frontiers in Science, 1964 (director)
Cree: The Last Great War Cry, a.k.a. Temptations of Big Bear, 1985 (executive producer)
The Magical Eye, 1989 (himself)