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Lionel Chetwynd (born January 29, 1940) is an English-born Canadian–American screenwriter, motion picture and television film director and producer.
Life and career
Chetwynd was born in Hackney, London, the son of Betty (née Dion) and Peter Chetwynd. His family moved to Canada when he was eight years old. Problems within his dysfunctional family led him to quit school at the age of fourteen.
He returned the following year but was promptly expelled. He then enlisted in the Canadian Army. After serving with The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, Chetwynd turned his life around, passed exams that allowed him to enroll in college and excel to the point that he earned a scholarship to Montreal's McGill University Law School. At McGill law he served as a Contributing Editor for the McGill Law Journal.
After obtaining his degree, he did graduate work in law in the United Kingdom at Trinity College, Oxford. After completing his studies Chetwynd remained in London, working for Columbia Pictures' distribution branch where he worked his way up to assistant managing director. Pursuing an interest in writing screenplays, after he met Canadian film director Ted Kotcheff, Chetwynd co-wrote the script for the film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz with fellow Montrealer Mordecai Richler who had written the novel from which it was adapted.
With the script complete, Chetwynd moved to New York City, where the 1974 release of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz saw his career get a big boost when he won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium and a nomination for the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. In 1977, he was hired by Marlo Thomas to pen a gender-reversal made-for-television version of It's a Wonderful Life entitled It Happened One Christmas, in which Thomas played the lead role portrayed by James Stewart in the original.
Hired to write scripts for the CBS (Love of Life) and PBS television networks, Chetwynd soon turned to directing his own screenplays, meeting with success for his 1978 film Two Solitudes. Adapted by Chetwynd from the Hugh MacLennan book, and starring Jean-Pierre Aumont, Stacy Keach, and Claude Jutra, the film dealt with societal issues relative to Canada's French and English speaking population and the Conscription Crisis of 1917. The film marked a turning point for Chetwynd and he would go on to write, direct, and produce numerous issue or event-based American films.
Chetwynd's diverse film works include "feel-good" productions such as the 1981 made for television story Miracle on Ice that recounted the U.S. ice hockey team's dramatic upset victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics. A member of the National Sponsoring Committee of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Chetwynd wrote and directed the 1987 drama The Hanoi Hilton that dealt with the treatment of American P.O.W.s during the Vietnam War in Hanoi's notorious Hoa Lo prison. That year he was commissioned to create and write a special tribute to the United States Congress as part of the Constitutional Bicentennial celebration. In 1988 Chetwynd also wrote the four-hour miniseries for A&E Television, To Heal a Nation, that dealt with the issue of how Vietnam veterans were treated after returning home.
Among his other issue-based works he wrote the screenplay and produced Kissinger and Nixon (1995), Color of Justice (1997) and wrote the scripts for Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy, a four-hour miniseries for CBS, and The Man Who Captured Eichmann. In 1999 he wrote the teleplay for the ABC miniseries, Tom Clancy's Net Force.
In 2001 he scripted and produced Varian's War, the story of Varian Fry, an American who helped numerous intellectuals and artists escape from Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The film earned Chetwynd his fifth Writers Guild of American "Best Screenplay" nomination. He has also made biblical films, notably Jacob (1994), Joseph (1996) and Moses (1996); the later two were both nominated for Emmys.
In 2001, Lionel Chetwynd was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In 2003, Chetwynd wrote and produced DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a docudrama for Showtime Networks recounting the nine days in the Bush administration between the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon and the president's televised address to the nation before Congress.
In a surprise to many political observers in the U.S., in 2002 Chetwynd wrote, produced and directed Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents, a PBS documentary that recounted the life and career of American Communist Party member Carl Foreman. The story deals with events during McCarthyism that saw Foreman, a talented film producer and screenwriter, blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studio bosses in the 1950s.
After Darkness at High Noon he subsequently received an Emmy nomination for writing and producing Ike: Countdown to D-Day starring Tom Selleck, wrote and produced the political documentary Celsius 41.11 and the historical film We Fight To Be Free.
Chetwynd has more than 40 longform and feature credits and over two dozen documentary credits, which have received numerous citations including six Writers Guild of America nominations (including an award), New York Film festival Gold Medal, two Christophers, six Tellys, two Genie nominations and two George Washington medals from the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge.
In 2003 he received the Caucus of Writers, Producers and Directors Lifetime Achievement Award. That same year he was conferred an honorary doctorate by Columbia College-Hollywood. In 2008, he received the John Singleton Copley Medal from the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian.