William Weintraub, Pioneering Canadian Film Writer-Director, Dies at 91

Courtesy of National Film Board of Canada
William Weintraub

Weintraub took part in around 150 National Film Board of Canada documentaries and dramatic movies over four decades.

William Weintraub, a journalist, author, film screenwriter, director and producer, including with the National Film Board of Canada over four decades, died Monday after a long illness in Montreal. He was 91.

"For as long as any of us can remember, Bill has been here to capture the life and vitality, the irreverence, the great personalities and stories, in his beloved Montreal and right across this country. The NFB has been privileged to have worked with him and to have been a part of his remarkable artistic legacy,” Claude Joli-Coeur, commissioner of the NFB, Canada's public filmmaker, said Wednesday in a statement.

Born on Feb. 19, 1926, in Montreal, Weintraub's NFB career included the 1974 award-winning feature Why Rock the Boat?, which was based on his own memoirs of his days as a young reporter with the Montreal Gazette in the 1950s. He left print journalism to join the NFB in its infancy. 

Working before the birth of cinema verite, the use of bulky 35mm cameras had Weintraub writing scripts for NFB documentaries, including the questions and answers for interviews captured onscreen. "We had two weeks to research the subject, two weeks to write the script, and the crew had two weeks to shoot the documentary," he recounted in a 2014 NFB film. 

During his early NFB days, Weintraub criss-crossed Canada to make documentaries, including the 1962 film Nahanni, about a gold prospector. His credits included narration for the 1963 film Drylanders, writing and directing the 1969 film A Matter of Fat, The Rise and Fall of English Montreal (1993) and producing the 1978 film Margaret Laurence, First Lady of Manwaka by director Robert Duncan.

Weintraub also wrote three novels and two works of non-fiction, including City Unique: The Rise and Fall of English Montreal and Getting Started, his memoir of literary life and friendship with Mavis Gallant, Brian Moore and Mordecai Richler.

Weintraub wrote four books after turning 70 years due to an apparent unwillingness to retire, he told the Montreal Gazette in a 2001 interview. "Why should I? I guess at a certain point people would expect me to start behaving like a mature adult, but I haven’t reached that point yet … I love what I do. That’s the key. There are people who detest what they do for a living and can’t wait until they stop. But for me, retirement is one of the most ominous words in the language," he said.

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