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Veteran Canadian filmmaker John Zaritsky, who earned an Oscar in 1983 for best documentary feature for Just Another Missing Kid, has died. He was 79.
Zaritsky died on March 30 due to heart failure at the Vancouver General hospital, according to his family. His prolific doc output included Men Don’t Cry: Prostate Cancer Stories, which he shot shortly before discovering his own diagnosis with prostate cancer.
Zaritsky’s films were often about people and families in vulnerable moments of their lives. He directed Do You Really Want to Know?, about families considering genetic testing for Huntington’s disease, and Leave Them Laughing, about a performer who vowed to get the last laugh over Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Just Another Missing Kid, which was an episode of a CBC news magazine show, investigated a 19 year-old from Ottawa who went missing in Nebraska, leaving his family to convince indifferent local and U.S. police that their son wasn’t a runway, but had forgotten to call home, before they learned his fate.
Born July 13, 1943 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Zaritsky’s reputation for investigative work was typified by his film about the scandal and tragedy behind thalidomide, Broken Promises; Extraordinary People; No Limits: The Thalidomide Saga.
With subjects as diverse and controversial as war with Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo; assisted suicide in The Suicide Tourist; and criminals in Rapists: Can They Be Stopped, Zaritsky shared complex stories that most filmmakers otherwise avoided. The New York Times called Zaritsky’s Murder on Abortion Row “a remarkable, heart-wrenching film.”
He also made more light-hearted documentaries, which included Ski Bums, shot in one of his favorite locales, Whistler, a renowned ski resort near Vancouver, and A Different Drummer, which captured Canada’s top singers recording the single “Tears Are Not Enough” for Ethiopian famine relief.
Zaritsky also spotlighted the Snowbirds, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s aerobatics flight demonstration team, in The Real Stuff, with music by David Foster. Over his four-decade career, Zaritsky earned seven Gemini Awards, a Hot Docs Special Jury Award, a Cable Ace Award, a Whistler Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, and several Emmy nominations.
His work has been broadcast in 35 countries and screened at more than 40 film festivals around the world, including Sundance, Toronto, Vancouver, IDFA in Amsterdam, Hot Docs and South by Southwest.
Zaritsky is survived by his wife Annie Clutton, children Errin and Bern Lally and grandchildren Imogen and Reid.
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