Allan King

Allan Winton King, OC (February 6, 1930 – June 15, 2009),[1] was a Canadian film director.

Allan King
Allan King (cropped).jpg
Allan Winton King

(1930-02-06)February 6, 1930
DiedJune 15, 2009(2009-06-15) (aged 79)
OccupationFilm director
Film producer
Years active19562006
Spouse(s)Phyllis Leiterman (1952-before 1970)
Patricia Watson (1970-before 1987)
Colleen Murphy (1987–2009)
AwardsOrder of Canada


Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, during the Great Depression, King attended Henry Hudson Elementary School, in Kitsilano.[2]

With documentary filmmakers Don Haig and Beryl Fox, King was a partner in Film Arts, a Toronto-based postproduction company that worked on their film projects and the television series This Hour Has Seven Days, The National Dream and W5.[3]

In 2002, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. A collection of ten of King's films was released as a collection representing various stages of his life. King's work was also the focus of a retrospective at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. In 2007 New York City's Museum of Modern Art hosted a retrospective of his work.[4] In 2009, there were similar tributes to King's work at Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque and the Vancouver International Film Centre [5]

King married three times: first to Phyllis April King in 1952, then to screenwriter Patricia Watson in 1970, and finally to screenwriter Colleen Murphy in 1987.[3] He collaborated with both Watson and Murphy on film projects. He wrote Who Has Seen the Wind with Watson in 1976[3] and directed Murphy's screenplay for Termini Station in 1989.

Pre-eminent documentarianEdit

For his films, King used the documentary technique cinema-verite. He ran Allan King Films Limited in Toronto. King described his style as "actuality drama – filming the drama of everyday life as it happens, spontaneously without direction, interviews or narrative." He said that he wanted to "serve the action as unobtrusively as possible" by becoming very familiar with both the environment and the people he filmed by paying particular attention to movement patterns, routines, and light quality.


Warrendale was a film about emotionally-disturbed children who lived in a Toronto institution with the same name. Warrendale used an experimental "holding" technique of safely restraining children who lost control because of fear, rage, or grief. The therapy was designed to push children to verbalize their emotions so that they would learn to identify and deal with their emotions, and it was also supposed to replace drugs or other techniques. The film was not an exposé of holding and neither chastised nor applauded the school's approach, but it was instead an absorbing, empathetic glimpse of children in distress.

Unlike Frederick Wiseman, who spent only a short time exploring an institution before he began filming, King spent much time with subjects beforehand so that he would develop trust with his subjects. King spent four weeks at Warrendale with 12 children and another two weeks there with his camera crew before filming began.

The crew had complete access to all aspects of the home/school situation at Warrendale, including one meeting in which the top school administrator gently admonished a counselor for using holding at an inappropriate time. King lit the entire home and replaced dark paneling in a hallway with lighter paneling to improve the lights. Filming lasted eight weeks. He said that getting to know people before filming and staying with situations for a significant amount of time were essential "because in order for anything significant to occur in action or drama the subjects must make a huge leap of faith in the filmmaker."[citation needed]

The film's pivotal moment was the counselors breaking the news to the children that their cook, Dorothy, had died suddenly. (Although the death had happened early during the filming, King made it the film's climax.) The children with emotional illnesses often believed that their thoughts and feelings caused trauma and tragedy. Filming was intimate during both the tensest and the most tender moments, with the camera sometimes inches from pained faces as the children screamed and cried, all while they were being restrained by counselors.

Upon seeing Warrendale, director Jean Renoir wrote, "Allan King is a great artist. His remarkable work exposes one of the most suspenseful action I have ever seen on a screen."[citation needed]

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which commissioned the film, refused to show it because the children often swore and uttered such words as "fuck" and "bullshit," which were not then permitted on Canadian television. Instead, it allowed King to show the film in cinemas. Shown in the Parallel Section at the Cannes Film Festival in 1967, the film won the Prix d'art et d'essai and also shared BAFTA's Best Foreign Film Award with Michaelangelo Antonioni's Blowup and the New York Critics' Circle Award (1968) with Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour.

A Married CoupleEdit

Despite censorship, King continued to push cultural taboos. In 1969, he directed A Married Couple, which explored a crisis in a real marriage and the issue of choice. The New York Times ' critic Clive Barnes described A Married Couple as "quite simply one of the best films I have ever seen."[citation needed] The film was issued by the Criterion Collection in a set titled Eclipse series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King.

Other genresEdit

During more than 50 years of filmmaking, King worked in every film genre except animation, creating an enormous and diverse portfolio. To support his documentaries, King also directed episodic television and feature films. His first dramatic feature film, Who Has Seen the Wind (1976), based on the novel by W. O. Mitchell, won the Grand Prix at the Paris International Film Festival and the Golden Reel Award for the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year. Many television dramas that he directed won top awards.

In 2003, he produced the documentary, Dying at Grace, a docudrama about five people in their final days at the Palliative Care Unit of the Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre as they came to terms with their deaths. It won awards at film festivals in Toronto and Berlin.


King died from brain cancer on June 15, 2009, at 79, in his home in Toronto.[6]


Films and telefilmsEdit

Television seriesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Seth Feldman, ed., Allan King: Filmmaker, Indiana University Press 2002, ISBN 0-9689132-1-0
  • Stanley Kaufmann, Children of Our Time, 1967;
  • Nik Sheehan, Crisis, What Crisis, 2002)

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit