Michael Spencer, Pioneering Canadian Film Producer, Dies at 96

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz STILL - H 2016

He financed early films by David Cronenberg, Denys Arcand, Ted Kotcheff and Gilles Carle.

Michael Spencer, the veteran Canadian director and producer who backed local auteurs like David Cronenberg and Ted Kotcheff with public money, has died. He was 96.

The filmmaker, born in Britain in 1919, landed in Canada in 1939, having become stranded by the outbreak of WWII. He started out as a cameraman in 1941 at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) before becoming a producer in 1945.

"As a newcomer to Canada, he [Spencer] embraced this country and the vital importance of bringing authentic, homegrown Canadian stories to the screen, in both of Canada’s official languages,” NFB chair and government film commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur said Friday in a statement.

As director of planning at the NFB in the 1960s, Spencer used public money to back early films by such pioneering Canadian directors as Gilles Carle, Denis Heroux and Oscar-winner Denys Arcand. Spencer in 1968 was named the first executive director of the Canadian Film Development Corp., the forerunner of Telefilm Canada, the government film financier.

In that role, he financed such classic Canadian indie films as Ted Kotcheff's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which starred a young Richard Dreyfuss; David Cronenberg's Stereo and Crimes of the Future; Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road; and Allan King's A Married Couple, a fly-on-the-wall documentary considered a forerunner of today's reality TV.

After leaving the CFDC in 1978, Spencer went on to run the completion bonding company Film Finance Canada. And in 1980 he became the first Canadian to sit on the Cannes Film Festival jury.

"Our team salutes him [Spencer] as a visionary, an ardent cultural nationalist and a pioneer, who was at once its founding spirit and its initial guide," Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm Canada, said Friday in a statement. Spencer is survived by his wife, Maqbool.