Allan King

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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 April (1952-before 1970)
Patricia Watson (1970-before 1987)
Colleen Murphy (1987–2009)
AwardsOrder of Canada

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


Born in Vancouver, British Columbia during the Depression, King attended Henry Hudson Elementary School in Kitsilano.[2] He says he became a documentary filmmaker because, "I used to have a fantasy everyone would see my films and be changed for the better. That's why you want to make films."[citation needed]

With documentary filmmakers Don Haig and Beryl Fox, King was a partner in Film Arts, a Toronto-based post-production company which worked on their film projects, as well as 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 life. His 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 was married three times during his life, 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, cowriting Who Has Seen the Wind with Watson in 1976[3] and directing Murphy's screenplay for Termini Station in 1989.

Preeminent documentarian[edit]

King created his films using the documentary technique known as cinema-verite. He ran Allan King Films Limited in Toronto. King describes his style as "actuality drama – filming the drama of everyday life as it happens, spontaneously without direction, interviews or narrative". He says he strives to "serve the action as unobtrusively as possible" and does so by becoming very familiar with the environment and people he films, by paying particular attention to movement patterns, routines and light quality.


The film tells about emotionally disturbed children who live in a Toronto institution known as Warrendale. The school practiced an experimental "holding" technique of safely restraining a child when she or he loses control because of fear, rage or grief. the therapy is designed to push children to verbalize their emotions so they learn to identify and deal with them. Holding is employed instead of drugs or other techniques. The documentary is not an exposé of the restraining technique. It neither chastises or applauds the approach. Rather, Warrendale is an absorbing, empathetic glimpse of children in distress.

Unlike Frederick Wiseman, who spends a short period exploring an institution before he begins filming, King spends a significant amount of time with subjects before filming to develop trust with his subjects. King spent four weeks at the Warrendale school with 12 children and then 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 where the top school administrator gently admonishes a counselor for using the holding technique 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. Getting to know people before filming and staying with situations for a significant chunk of time is essential, he had said, "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 pivotal moment in Warrendale is when the counselors break the news to the children that their cook Dorothy has died suddenly. Children with emotional illnesses often believe their thoughts and feelings cause trauma and tragedy. The filming is intimate during the most tense and tender moments – with the camera sometimes inches from pained faces as they scream and cry – all the while being restrained by counselors. The cook's death happened early on during the filming, but King made it the film's climax.

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, uttering such words as "fuck" and "bullshit" that were not permitted on Canadian television at the time. Instead, the CBC allowed King to show Warrendale in cinemas. Shown in the Parallel Section at the Cannes Film Festival in 1967, it won the Prix d'art et d'essai. It 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 Couple[edit]

Despite censorship, King continued to push cultural taboos, and in 1969 directed A Married Couple which explores 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] A Married Couple was issued by the Criterion Collection.

Other genres[edit]

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 has 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. The many television dramas he has directed have 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 come to terms with their deaths. It won awards at film festivals in Toronto and Berlin.


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


Films and telefilms[edit]

Television series[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 also[edit]


External links[edit]