Hugh O'Connor (filmmaker)

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Hugh O'Connor
Born(1924-03-12)March 12, 1924
Fort William, Scotland
DiedSeptember 20, 1967(1967-09-20) (aged 41)
Occupation(s)Director, producer
Years active1956-1967

Hugh O'Connor (March 12, 1924 - September 20, 1967) was a Canadian director and producer who worked for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). His best- known film is the ground-breaking In the Labyrinth (1967), but his promising career ended shortly after that film's release when he was murdered while filming in Kentucky.

He was a father to two daughters and one son from two different marriages. His first wife was Kathleen Taylor, they were married in December of 1952. They had their first daughter, Ann Kerin O’Connor, 9 months later. Their son, Mark Taylor O’Connor, four years later. After their divorce, he was married to Claire Nöel, and together they had a daughter, Sophie O’Connor.


O'Connor joined the NFB in 1956 after, it is believed, working as a journalist. He was hired, by Tom Daly to head up the Science Film section of the NFB's Unit B.[1][2] He began directly immediately, and began to be recognized as one of Canada's leading filmmakers.[3] He was known for developing cutting-edge technology in his films, including the five-camera, five-screen film In the Labyrinth, one of the highlights of Montreal's Expo 67. The film split elements across five screens and also combined them for a mosaic of a single image. This inspired Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison to apply similar techniques to The Thomas Crown Affair. In the Labyrinth was the earliest inspiration for the revolutionary IMAX film format.[4]


In the late 1960s, journalists and filmmakers descended upon Appalachia to document the living conditions during the War on Poverty. This offended many residents, who objected to stereotyping and criticism by outsiders, as well as the tendency to show only the poor side of Appalachia.[5]

Unaware of the hostility toward outsiders,[6] O'Connor went to the mountains of eastern Kentucky while working on a documentary called US, which had been commissioned by the United States Department of Commerce to be shown at HemisFair '68 in San Antonio. It would depict life in the United States from early pioneering days to the present.[3]

On the afternoon of September 20, 1967, O'Connor and his crew had completed shooting and were driving back to their hotel when they spotted a coal miner, still covered in coal dust, sitting on his front porch with his baby on his lap. They stopped and asked the man if they could film him; he agreed and they set up their cameras. This man was a renter, and his house was owned by Hobart Ison, a man who owned many houses which were in particularly bad condition. When Ison found the crew on the property, he ordered them to leave. They packed up their gear and began to walk to their car. As they neared the car, Ison, using a 1904 .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, took aim and fired four times, first at the camera and then at O'Connor. One bullet hit O'Connor in the chest and he died immediately. Ison eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison; he served one year.[7][6][3][8][9][10][11]

The entire incident was documented by Elizabeth Barret in her 2000 film Stranger with a Camera, which aired on the PBS series P.O.V.[7][12]


O'Connor's murder was met with shock, horror and outrage. O'Connor's boss at the NFB, Colin Low was particularly surprised as O'Connor was always the "front man" for scouting locations, all over the world, as he had an engaging way of dealing with people.[13]

Due to the sensational nature of the case, much was written about the murder and the trial; very little was written about O'Connor and no obituary appears to have been published. It is known that he left behind a 14 year-old daughter, a 10 year-old son and his wife of 15 years, Claire, who died four years after the death of her husband.[14]


All National Film Board of Canada[15][16]

  • The Winds of Weather - documentary short, 1957 - director, producer
  • The Department Manager - documentary short, 1958 - director
  • Birth of a Giant - documentary short, Perspective series 1957 - writer, director
  • Islands of the Frozen Sea - documentary short, Perspective series 1958 - producer, co-director with Dalton Muir and Strowan Robertson
  • Evidence for the Crown - documentary short, 1958 - director
  • Tales Out of School - short film, 1958 - director
  • The Face of the High Arctic - documentary short, Dalton Muir 1958 - producer
  • High Arctic: Life on the Land - documentary short, Dalton Muir 1958 - producer
  • Radiation - documentary short, 1959 - director, producer
  • Interview with Linus Pauling - documentary, Joe Koenig 1960 - producer
  • Life in the Woodlot - documentary short, Dalton Muir 1960 - producer
  • Life and Radiation - documentary short, 1960 - producer, director
  • Above the Timberline: The Alpine Tundra Zone - documentary short, J.V. Durden 1960 - producer
  • Microscopic Fungi - documentary short, J.V. Durden 1960 - producer
  • Trout Stream - documentary short, 1961 - producer, director
  • Snow - documentary short, Barrie McLean 1961 - producer
  • Above the Horizon - documentary short, 1964 - co-director, co-producer with Roman Kroitor
  • The Edge of the Barrens - documentary short, Dalton Muir 1964 - producer
  • The Persistent Seed - documentary short, Christopher Chapman 1964 - producer
  • Magic Molecule - documentary short, 1964 - co-director with Christopher Chapman
  • Paul-Émile Borduas - documentary short, Jacques Godbout 1964 - co-producer with Fernand Dansereau
  • Ethiopian Mosaic - documentary short, 1967 - co-producer, co-director with Desmond Dew
  • In the Labyrinth - short film, 1967 - co-director with Roman Kroitor and Colin Low


Islands of the Frozen Sea (1958)[17]

  • Scholastic Teacher Magazine Annual Film Awards: Award of Merit, 1958

Radiation (1959)

Microscopic Fungi (1960)[19]

  • International Exhibition of Scientific Film, Buenos Aires: Diploma of Honor, 1964

Life in the Woodlot (1960)[20]

Above the Horizon (1964)[21]

Magic Molecule (1964)[22]

The Edge of the Barrens (1964)[23]


  1. ^ Geoff, Alexander (2010). Academic films for the classroom : a history. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. pp. 34–35. ISBN 9780786458707. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  2. ^ Hassannia, Tina. " the NFB's Unit B changed Canadian cinema". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "Kentuckian Gets 10 Years in Jail For Killing Canada Filmmaker". The New York Times. 25 March 1969. p. 30.
  4. ^ Atherton, Tony (10 July 2000). "When camera and gun collide". Ottawa Citizen. pp. D7.
  5. ^ "Jury Split in Death Of Film Producer; Mistrial Declared". The New York Times. 1 June 1968. p. 28.
  6. ^ a b Snyder, Robert E.; Barret, Elizabeth (December 2001). "Review of Stranger with a Camera". The Journal of American History. 88 (3): 1219–1220. doi:10.2307/2700585. JSTOR 2700585.
  7. ^ a b Salomon, Julie (11 June 2000). "He Turned His Camera on Appalachia, and One Man Wouldn't Stand For It". The New York Times. pp. E2.
  8. ^ Lin, William (7 May 2005). "Piece of history draws new blood". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  9. ^ Catherine McNicol Stock, Robert D. Johnston (2001). The Countryside in the Age of the Modern State: Political Histories of Rural America. Cornell University Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-8014-8771-4.
  10. ^ Rosenfeld, Megan (11 July 2000). "Killing in Kentucky: Out-of-Focus 'Camera'". The Washington Post. pp. C07.
  11. ^ Morfitt, Ian (8 March 2003). "The violent poetry of Appalachia". The Globe and Mail. pp. R13.
  12. ^ Lin, William (7 May 2005). "Piece of history draws new blood". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  13. ^ "Stranger With a Camera". American Documentary. Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  14. ^ "Stranger With a Camera". American Documentary. Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  15. ^ "Director: Hugh O'Connor". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  16. ^ "Producer: Hugh O'Connor". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  17. ^ "Islands of the Frozen Sea". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  18. ^ Maria Topalovich, And the Genie Goes To...: Celebrating 50 Years of the Canadian Film Awards. Stoddart Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7737-3238-1.
  19. ^ "Microscopic Fungi". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  20. ^ "Life in the Woodlot". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  21. ^ "Above the Horizon". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  22. ^ "Magic Molecule". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  23. ^ "The Edge of the Barrens". National Film Board of Canada. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 3 February 2023.

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