Meticulous American director of several lush, visually striking films since the late 1970s who made a memorable feature debut with "The Black Stallion" (1979), an exquisitely crafted tale of the far-flung adventures of a boy and a horse. Executive produced by Ballard's UCLA film school chum Francis Ford Coppola, the film was hailed both for its extraordinary attention to visual and behavioristic detail and as a beautifully realized adaptation of Walter Farley's classic 1941 children's novel. Four years passed until Ballard's next film, "Never Cry Wolf" (1983), an unusual and haunting nature tale featuring Charles Martin Smith, in a rare starring role, as a biologist investigating whether wolves are responsible for the gradual disappearance of the caribou herds. Two years of demanding production in the wilds of the Yukon and Alaska paid off to create a poetic work that easily transcended the standard qualities of a Disney nature picture (which it was, after all).
Ballard's subsequent output has been disappointingly sparse. Six years elapsed before "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture" (1986), an ambitious film version of the Christmas 1983 Seattle production staged by Maurice Sendak and Kent Stowell. Ballard utilized Sendak's dreamy sets to bring out some of the psychosexual underpinnings of the ballet. Less successful was the sometimes frantic editing which some reviewers found too reminiscent of music videos. "Wind" (1992) was a ho-hum yacht racing yarn that boasted outstanding cinematography by John Toll. Ballard's affinity for the beauties and rigors of nature and weather were undiminished but the material and characters were unworthy.
Doubtlessly making "Wind" called upon elements of the filmmaker's childhood spent at Lake Tahoe where his father was a boat builder. Ballard himself spent a year after high school building a catamaran. He next enlisted in the Army where he served as a cameraman while stationed in the American South. During that period, Ballard saw three films that revolutionized his notions about film: Teinosuke Kinugasa's "Gate of Hell" (1953-Japan), Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957-US), and Carl Dreyer's "Ordet" (1955-Denmark). Inspired, he enrolled in the UCLA film school in the early 1960s. There Ballard began making acclaimed short narratives and documentaries that usually starred animals. He was nominated for a Oscar as the producer of the documentary, "Harvest" (1967).
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Moved to Marin County, California at age 15 (date approximate)
Produced a documentary entitled "Harvest" for the US Information Agency; nominated for an Academy Award
Worked as second unit camera operator on "Star Wars"
Feature film directing debut, "The Black Stallion", produced by Coppola
Directed "Never Cry Wolf" starring Charles Martin Smith as a government researcher, sent to research the "menace" of wolves in the north
Directed the feature production of "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture"
Directed Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey in "Wind"
Directed "Fly Away Home" starring Anna Paquin as a young girl who attempts to lead a flock of orphaned Canada Geese south by air
Directed "Duna" a film about an orphaned cheetah that becomes the best friend and pet of a young boy living in South Africa