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Remembering Gerald Potterton

Remembering Gerald Potterton, image,
(Buster Keaton and Gerald Potterton during the production of The Railrodder in 1965. Courtesy of NFB.)

Remembering Gerald Potterton
by Staff Editors

(August 24, 2022 – Montréal, QC) The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has issued a media release regarding the passing of filmmaker Gerald Potterton (1931–2022), who died at the Brome-Missisquoi-Perkins Hospital in Cowansville, Quebec, last night, August 23, at the age of 91.

A native of London, England, and student of the Hammersmith Art School, Potterton, who had served in the RAF, emigrated to Canada in 1954 to work alongside the pioneers of NFB animation. He created animation for NFB films in the fifties before directing his own classic shorts, including the Stephen Leacock adaptation My Financial Career (1962) and Christmas Cracker (1963, co-directed with Norman McLaren, Jeff Hale and Grant Munro), both nominated for Academy Awards. He also made his mark in live-action comedy with The Ride (1963) and the multi-award-winning film-without-words The Railrodder (1965), starring the great Buster Keaton (pictured above) in one of his last film roles.

“Gerald came to Canada and the NFB to be part of a new wave of storytelling, one that was fresh and irreverent, and he brought great wit and creativity to every project” said Claude Joli-Coeur, NFB Chairperson and Government Film Commissioner. “He was also a builder, helping to lay the foundation for today’s independent Canadian animation industry with Potterton Productions. I was lucky to have been able to spend an evening with Gerald in 2017 when the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal presented a special screening of The Railrodder. He was an exceptional artist and a truly nice man.”

Gerald Potterton returned to England to work on the animated Beatles feature Yellow Submarine (1968), followed by a collaboration with Harold Pinter on the innovative NBC TV special Pinter People, during which he began a lifelong friendship and collaboration with actor Donald Pleasence.

Remembering Gerald Potterton, Heavy Metal, Back in Canada, he formed Potterton Productions, a prolific independent production house for film and TV projects, including his Oscar Wilde adaptation The Selfish Giant (1972), an animated short that netted him his third Oscar nomination.

Potterton directed the animated cult classic Heavy Metal (1981) for Columbia Pictures, supervising the work of more than 65 animators in Canada, England and the U.S. He also collaborated with the NFB again on his second Leacock adaptation, The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones (1983), and co-created the animated children’s series Smoggies (1987–1990).

In later years, he took up painting and was known for his historically accurate aviation paintings and extraordinary skies. He remained active and prolific into the 21st century, continuing to develop film and TV projects as well as pursuing other artistic endeavours from his farm in Knowlton, Quebec.

In 2020, he wrote and illustrated a popular children’s book about Joseph-Armand Bombardier, “L’homme des neiges,” published by Éditions Québec Amérique.

A member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Gerald Potterton was selected by the World Animation Celebration in 1998 as one of “Ten Men Who Have Rocked the Animation World.” There have been over a dozen retrospectives and lifetime honours for his work in recent years, including at the Ottawa Animation Film Festival (1994) and the Seattle Film Festival (1997), as well as in India (2000).

Also see: Gerald Potterton official website.