Statement by Carolle Brabant, Executive Director of Telefilm Canada, on the death of Michael Spencer, Telefilm’s first executive director
Montreal, April 22, 2016—It is with great sadness that we at Telefilm Canada learned of the death of Michael Spencer, who served as the Corporation’s first executive director from 1968 to 1978. Our team salutes him as a visionary, an ardent cultural nationalist and a pioneer, who was at once its founding spirit and its initial guide, alongside Gratien Gélinas, the first chair of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), now Telefilm. Over the years, Michael Spencer remained active with Telefilm and his industry colleagues, in particular as a completion guarantor with Film Finance Canada. He had two passions: films and birds, which he watched with avid interest.
The mark he made on the history of Telefilm was unique. In fact, as the director of planning at the National Film Board of Canada, he was among those who, in the early 1960s, enthusiastically and resolutely piloted the bill to establish the CFDC. Filmmakers like Gilles Carle, Denys Arcand and Denis Héroux worked with him in this effort to provide a fledgling but talented industry the support it needed to grow and thrive. The Canadian Film Development Corporation Act was adopted in March 1967, with the agency granted a budget of $10 million.
Michael Spencer was very proud to call himself a cultural bureaucrat, a term that was new at the time and that he elevated to true distinction. Many of the films that were produced on his watch drew international attention, among them Act of the Heart by Paul Almond; Le viol d’une jeune fille douce by Gilles Carle; Goin’ Down the Road by Don Shebib; Stereo and Crimes of the Future by David Cronenberg; A Married Couple by Allan King; Les Ordres by Michel Brault; The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Ted Kotcheff; and Lies My Father Told Me by Ján Kadár.
In 2003, he published, with co-author Suzan Ayscough, an account of his experience in film titled Hollywood North: Creating the Canadian Motion Picture Industry, sadly out of print today, with forewords by Donald Sutherland and Carole Laure. As Carole Laure justly notes, Michael Spencer, born in England but Canadian since the age of 20, dreamed of seeing Canadian stories told by Canadians, stories that would create jobs for Canadians. Michael Spencer was convinced that adequate funding would allow new talent to emerge all over the country and to honour our culture, and he was absolutely right, as we see today.
The Canadian film industry is indeed an important economic and cultural force, replete with talent celebrated around the world.
Well known for his discretion, honesty and simplicity, demonstrating absolute confidence in Canadian film talent and working tirelessly to further its development and recognition at home and abroad, Michael Spencer was the first Canadian to sit on the Cannes Film Festival jury, in 1980. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1989.
Telefilm extends its condolences to his wife, Maqbool Spencer, his family and all his friends and colleagues in the industry. Telefilm will turn 50 in 2017 and we will certainly be honouring his memory then.