One of the world's foremost documentary filmmakers, Donald Brittain worked as a journalist with the Ottawa Journal from 1951-1954 before joining the Canadian National Film Board (NFB) as a trainee writer. He left the NFB in 1968 to produce the multi-screen project "Tiger Child" for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan and worked as a freelance filmmaker afterwards, although most of his projects were for either the NFB or the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Brittain typically wrote, directed and narrated his documentaries, which included "Memorandum"(1966), covering the horrors of the Holocaust; the Oscar-nominated "Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry" (1976), "The Champions" (1978, 1986), a trilogy on the intertwining lives of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the late Quebec premier Rene Levesque; and "The King Chronicles" (1988), a six-hour NFB-CBC co-production on the life and career of prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. Nearly 500,000 Canadians tuned in nightly to watch this 3-part docudrama about King.
Brittain declined an offer to become director of production at NFB in 1970, setting out instead as an independent filmmaker with the intention to debunk the myth that documentarians were all frustrated feature makers. During a particularly prolific period (1968-1976), he co-directed 15 films and helmed documentaries on the lives of poet Leonard Cohen, baseball pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and union boss Hal Banks.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Began his career at the Ottawa Journal
Joined Canadian National Film Board (NFB) as trainee writer; worked there until 1968
With John Spotton, co-wrote and co-directed the hour-long documentary "Memorandum"
Invited to China to produce multiscreen project "Tiger Child" for Expo 70, Osaka, Japan
Declined offer to be director of production for NFB
Scripted and directed "The Players", a documentary about the Stratford National Theatre of Canada
His "Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry" was nominated for an Academy Award and swept Canadian Film Awards
Produced, directed, wrote and narrated the two-part "The Champions", a profile of Canadian politicians Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque
Wrote, directed and narrated "The Champions Part 3--The Final Battle", a follow-up to his two-part 1978 documentary
Appointed an officer in the Order of Canada