Peter Wintonick, Canadian documentary great, dead at 60

The internationally-renowned filmmaker, known as the "international ambassador of documentary film," was best known for his movie chronicling the life and ideas of Noam Chomsky.

Montreal filmmaker, best known for Chomsky documentary, was mentor to next generation

Peter Wintonick won the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2006. (National Film Board)

Canadian filmmaker Peter Wintonick, considered the "international ambassador of documentary film," died in a Montreal hospital this morning. He was 60 years old. 

Wintonick was recently diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer and had been admitted into palliative care late last week. 

A self-proclaimed film festival addict, Wintonick's career spanned decades and took him all over the world. 

“Peter is — so hard to say ‘was’ — one of the greats of the documentary world," National Film Board chair Tom Perlmutter said in a statement. 

"He knew everyone and everyone knew him for his passion, his commitment, his generosity. He created a significant body of work; but his contribution was far greater than the sum of his films. It encompassed a larger view of the documentary as quintessential to the moral well-being of the universe."

The Ontario-born, Montreal-based Wintonick was best known for the 1992 documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, produced by his Montreal-based production company, Necessary Illusions. 

The film took home awards from festivals around the globe and, according to the NFB, remains one of the most commercially successful documentaries in Canadian history.

In 2005, Wintonick was invited by the premier of South Australia to be a "Thinker in Residence." The following year, he won the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

He is also one of the founders of DocAgora, a filmmaker collective that focuses on cutting-edge, digital documentary production and new ways of funding filmmakers.

Remembered at Montreal festival 

His presence is felt on thousands of films in very concrete ways,- Mila Aung-Thwin, chair of the Montreal International Documentary Festival 

In Montreal, where the International Documentary Festival continues this week, filmmakers remembered Wintonick as a man devoted to his craft and one constantly pushing the medium forward. 

Yesterday afternoon, friends and admirers of Wintonick's work gathered at the festival for a screening of PilgrIMAGE, a 2009 movie about filmmaking that he co-directed with his daughter, Mira Burt-Wintonick. 

Investment in the next generation was one of Wintonick's defining characteristics, said Mila Aung-Thwin, chair of the Montreal International Documentary Festival and co-founder of production company EyeSteelFilm. 

"His presence is felt on thousands of films in very concrete ways," he said, adding that his own early career was shaped by Wintonick's guidance after he landed an internship with the filmmaker.

Wintonick's health declined sharply in recent weeks, but he was still eager to see old friends, many of whom were in town recently for the annual doc festival. 

"Peter, I think from the initial diagnosis, had been remarkably Zen," Aung-Thwin said. 

"He would say things, when people would come to visit him at his home, like: 'If you have any tears, just collect them in a cup and pour them in a plant or something. I don't need them. Just come here and have fun, and hang out and tell stories.'"

In a brief statement on behalf of her family, Burt-Wintonick said simply that her father "died peacefully, cracking jokes and spreading joy right to the end."