Even with the help of class agents, professors, advancement officers, and great alumni affairs and public affairs teams, some important achievement or event always seems to fall between the cracks.
On the flip side, when we do finally hear about such moments, catching up is a blast. Learning—often, learning a lot—is always in the mix
Take award-winning filmmaker Richard Elson ’69, for instance.
When I last contacted him for an article back in 1999, he’d already produced the Academy-Award nominated The Colors of My Father, the extraordinary documentary about Canadian expressionist painter Sam Borenstein as depicted by Borenstein’s daughter, Judith.
He had produced Bonjour Shalom, a film about a neighborhood in Montreal where a community of Hasidic Jews lives side-by-side (though not without tension) with French Catholic neighbors. The film earned numerous awards.
In 1999 he also produced What if… a film about Judith Merril, the science fiction writer and host of the original Dr. Who series who was an icon of sci-fi’s heydey in the 1940s and 50s. The film won the Best Portrait Award at the International Festival of Films on Art.
He’d recently released Bittersweet Deliveries, an intimate portrait of young unemployed men and women in Montreal who deliver food to the elderly and form strong relationships with them. And he had completed The Mystery of the Blue Whale, which won the Rolex Grand Prize at the International Festival of Maritime and Exploration Films in Toulon, France.
The only thing all these films had in common was Elson’s passion for the subject matter. Through his production company, Imageries, Ltd., Elson was taking risks to tell the stories he believed needed to be told.
So as I was contacting alumni for a feature in the Winter 2008 issue of Wabash Magazine that we’re calling “That Entrepreneurial Spirit,” Richard’s name was among the first that came to mind. And Richard had just emailed me with change of address form, so I knew exactly how to get in touch with him.
I wondered what he had been up to lately. Richard sent me a link to the website of one of his latest projects and I ran a Google search of his name to find some other recent work. Talk about missing some remarkable accomplishments!
In 2002 he produced Chiefs, a six-hour TV series about the lives of such remarkable First Nations chiefs as Sitting Bull, Pontiac, Poundmaker, and Black Hawk.
Next he suggested to Gary Beitel (pictured with Elson at left), with whom he had worked on Bonjour Shalom, that Beitel direct a documentary about Montreal’s famed Chez Schwartz deli. The result is, as one reviewer put it, “a film to drool over.” (See the website here.)
He’s currently working with Oscar-winning director Terre Nash on “Once Upon a Story”, a feature documentary about storytelling.
I’m grateful that Richard has agreed to answer my questions about filmmaking and entrepreneurism for our Winter issue. But I’m more grateful for and amazed at the work he has done in his remarkable career as a filmmaker in the true liberal arts tradition.
Read Elson’s answers here to the question we asked him in 1999: What was the most significant achievement in your profession during the 20th century?