John Walker (credit: Nigel Markham)
John Walker is one of Canada’s most prolific and respected documentary filmmakers.
His films have been widely broadcast and have appeared at major international film festivals in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, London and Tokyo. From the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, he has received 19 nominations and awards, including the coveted Donald Brittain Award for best social/political documentary, for Utshimassits: Place of the Boss.
Walker also received a Gemini for best documentary director (The Hand of Stalin) and a Genie for best feature documentary (Strand – Under the Dark Cloth), a personal portrait of his mentor, the photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand. His film on the Cape Breton coal miners’ choir, Men of the Deeps, won three Gemini Awards, including best performing arts, best documentary photography and best sound, as well as a best director nomination. The film garnered three million viewers during its CTV broadcast.
Born in Montreal, Walker made several films for British television, including two films in the BBC October Films trilogy The Hand of Stalin, which addressed the extreme human suffering under Stalin’s regime. “Oral history at its most devastating,” London’s Daily Mail said at the time, while the Observer noted “words fail the enormity of what these films reveal.” The British Press Guild, Royal Television Society, and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television all nominated the trilogy for best series.
Walker’s directorial credits on Great Britain’s Channel 4 include Hidden Children, a film about children who concealed their Jewish identity to survive the Holocaust; Orphans of Manchuria, also nominated for the Donald Brittain Award; and the ground-breaking Distress Signals, based on the communication theories of Canadian scholar Harold Innis, which also received a nomination for a Donald Brittain Award.
With Utshimassits: Place of the Boss, he turned his attention to a tragedy on Canadian soil – juxtaposing the powerful testimony of the Mushuau Innu of Davis Inlet with the vast Labrador landscape. Walker’s feature-length films include the Genie-nominated The Fairy Faith, Tough Assignment, Strand – Under the Dark Cloth, and the critically acclaimed feature drama A Winter Tan, starring Jackie Burroughs, which received seven Genie nominations including best motion picture and best director, and won best actress.
Walker also co-produced, wrote and directed the provocative feature film Passage, a fiction/documentary for BBC and History Television about the search for the fabled Northwest Passage. The Toronto Star called it “One of the great triumphs in Canadian documentary film history.” His feature documentary A Drummer’s Dream was described by the Globe and Mail as “Beautifully shot and recorded with a lovely sound … (it) isn’t really about drumming, but about joy and self-expression.”
His passionate commitment to the documentary form led him to co-found DOC, Documentary Organization of Canada (formerly Canadian Independent Film Caucus). Now based in Halifax, Walker conducts master classes across the country and mentors numerous emerging filmmakers. He served as guest programmer for Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, and has been a board member since 2011.