Sandy Wilson (director)

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Sandy Wilson
Born Sandra Wilson
1947 (age 70–71)
Penticton, British Columbia
Occupation Film director
Film editor
Years active 1969 - Present

Sandra “Sandy” Wilson (born 1947) is a Canadian film director and screenwriter, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is best known for her films My American Cousin (1985) and Harmony Cats (1992). Most of her films take place in the same areas she grew up: Penticton and Okanagan.

Wilson has received critical acclaim for her films. At the 1986 Genie Awards, My American Cousin won six awards including Best Achievement in Direction, Best Original Screenplay and Best Motion Picture. Harmony Cats was nominated for Genie Awards in 1993.

Early life and education[edit]

Sandra “Sandy” Wilson was born in 1947 in Penticton, B.C. and is of English descent.[1] She grew up in Paradise Ranch just outside of Penticton.[2]

She has a brother named Brian, who is has a physical disability. He was the subject and inspiration for Wilson’s 1972 documentary He’s Not the Walking Kind.[1]

Wilson studied English and History at Simon Fraser University. She never intended to become a filmmaker but when she signed up for a Film Workshop at the university, Wilson discovered her passion for moving images.[2]


Wilson started her career in filmmaking in 1969. She began writing, producing and directing films in Vancouver. Much of Wilson’s early work consists of short personal documentaries. For The Bridal Shower (1972), Growing Up in Paradise (1977) and He’s Not the Walking Kind Wilson incorporated home video footage that her father shot on 16mm film.[1]

The success of her early personal documentaries inspired Wilson to begin work on her first feature film. In 1972, during work on He’s Not the Walking Kind, she began an outline of My American Cousin.[1]

My American Cousin[edit]

My American Cousin is Wilson’s first feature film. It is a semi-autobiographical film, inspired by her childhood memories. It follows a twelve-year-old girl’s coming-of-age during a summer in the late 1950’s in Okanagan, B.C..[3]

The film was further inspired by the Johnny Horton song “The Battle of New Orleans.” When she was working on the film, Wilson heard it on the radio and thought it reminded her of her American cousin, which became the inspiration for the film's title.[2]

The budget for the film was $1.5 million and was fund raised over a two-year period. Wilson started the project by traveling to Toronto and pitching the film to “anyone with money.”[1] Wilson’s childhood friend, Phil Borsos, also helped during the early days of My American Cousin. Borsos father, Peter O’Brien, was Sandy Wilson’s high school art teacher. Borsos showed his father the script, and O’Brien eventually agreed to produce the film.[2]

Much of the film was shot in the community where Wilson grew up: Paradise Ranch.[2] Despite other executives on the film advising against it, Wilson cast her 13-year-old neighbour, Margaret Langrick, in the lead role of Sandy Wilcox.[4]

My American Cousin won six Genie Awards at the 1986 ceremony, including Best Achievement in Direction and Best Original Screenplay for Wilson. Shortly after, My American Cousin opened in New York.[1] There was debate on whether to label the film as Canadian for its American premiere. They settled on “winner of six Canadian Academy Awards.”[4]

American Boyfriends - present[edit]

After the success of My American Cousin there was pressure on Wilson to relocate to Los Angeles, but she chose to stay in Vancouver. As a single mom, with two young boys she wanted to focus on raising them in their home city.[1]

Four years later, Wilson directed the sequel to My American Cousin, American Boyfriends (1989). The film follows Sandy Wilcox on a trip to Santa Cruz to see her cousin get married. During production in California, the local union limited the number of Canadian crew members to seven. They were given the label “privileged aliens” while working in the United States. The American crew members working on the film were all familiar with the original film, and happy to be working on its sequel.[4]

American Boyfriends flopped and didn't receive the same success as My American Cousin. After American Boyfriends, Wilson worked in the television industry for four years.[5]

In 1992, Wilson premiered Harmony Cats, which was different from all her films that came before. After American Boyfriends, Wilson didn’t want to direct any more semi-autobiographical pieces.[5]


Year Title Type of film Notes
1969 Garbage Short
1970 Penticton Profile Short
1971 Madeleine Is... assistant director
1971 Proxyhawks assistant director
1972 The Bridal Shower Short
1972 He's Not the Walking Kind Short documentary
1975 Pen High Grad Short documentary
1976 Raising the Gilhast Pole Short
1976 Going All the Way Short
1977 Growing Up in Paradise Short
1977 Teenage Money Short
1979 Coming Down Short
1980 Mount Chopaka Easter Sunday Jackpot Rodeo TV movie
1985 My American Cousin feature film
1986 Moving Day TV movie
1987 Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird TV movie
1989 American Boyfriends feature film
1992 Harmony Cats feature film
2000 My Life in A Few Minutes also known as My Life in 8 Minutes

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Film Award Won
1986 My American Cousin Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction Won
Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Genie Award for Best Motion Picture Won
1993 Harmony Cats Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction Nominated
Genie Award for Best Motion Picture Nominated


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cole, Janice (1993). Calling the shots: Profiles of Women Filmmakers. Quarry Press. pp. 249–257. ISBN 1550820850. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Spaner, David (2002). Dreaming in the Rain: How Vancouver Become Hollywood North by Northwest. Arsenal Pulp Press. pp. 80–82. ISBN 9781551521299. 
  3. ^ Monk, Katherine (2001). Weird Sex & Snowshoes: And Other Canadian Film Phenomena. Raincoast Books. p. 319. ISBN 9781551924748. 
  4. ^ a b c Lacey, Liam (7 Oct 1989). "Places in the Heart For Sandy Wilson, the American dream blooms as a theme". The Globe and Mail. 
  5. ^ a b Haeseker, Fred (6 May 1993). "Sandy Wilson Changes Pace on Her Own Turf". Calgary Herald. 

External links[edit]