Paul Almond

David Paul MacPherson Almond, OC, director, producer, writer (born 26 April 1931 in Montréal, QC; died 9 April 2015 in Los Angeles, California).

Almond, Paul
(courtesy Telefilm)

David Paul MacPherson Almond, OC, director, producer, writer (born 26 April 1931 in Montréal, QC; died 9 April 2015 in Los Angeles, California). Paul Almond was a pioneering director who began working at CBC TV in 1954 at age 23. He directed more than 100 television dramas in Canada, the United States and Britain, including the highly acclaimed documentary Seven Up! (1964), the first in the famous Up series. His trio of films made with then-wife Geneviève BujoldIsabel (1968), Act of the Heart (1970) and Journey (1972) — constitute a distinctive contribution to the Canadian film canon. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Canada.

Education and Television Career

The son of an Episcopal priest, Almond graduated from Bishop's College School, a boarding school in Lennoxville, Québec. He studied at McGill University and was educated at Oxford, earning a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics in 1954. He formed a repertory company in England before joining CBC TV in Toronto as a director. From 1954 to 1967, Almond directed more than 100 dramas for the CBC, Granada TV, BBC and American television. In Canada he was a pioneer, directing live drama for CBC’s prestigious Folio and Festival series, including: The Hill (1954), which he also wrote; Point of Departure (1960); Julius Caesar (1960); Macbeth (1962), starring Sean Connery; Romeo and Jeannette (1965); and Birthday Party (1965), the first Harold Pinter play broadcast on North American television. In 1958, he became the first in the CBC drama department to shoot an exterior scene on film.

In 1964, he directed the highly acclaimed Seven Up! for Granada TV — the first in the famous Up documentary series (14 Up, 21 Up, etc.) — before returning to Canada, where he became the first drama director to use a hand-held television camera in studio, and the first to utilize outdoor sets (for an adaptation of Crime and Punishment called The Murderer in 1966). Almond's The Puppet Caravan (La Roulette aux poupées, 1967), written by Marie-Claire Blais, was the first colour drama to be produced, and the first in both official languages by CBC's English and French networks with the same bilingual cast. He directed a number of episodes for early Canadian television series such as R.C.M.P., The Forest Rangers, Wojeck and the American series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Film Career

In 1965, Almond cast a young Geneviève Bujold in Romeo and Jeannette, which launched a professional relationship that was immensely rewarding for both. The result was three highly personalized theatrical films — Isabel (1968), Act of the Heart (1970) and Journey (1972) — that displayed Almond's interest in the mystical. They constitute his best work and represent a distinctive contribution to the Canadian film canon. Isabel was the first English-Canadian feature to receive up-front financing and distribution from a major US studio, Paramount. The film received four Canadian Film Awards, and Almond was nominated for best director by the Directors Guild of America. Act of the Heart won six Canadian Film Awards, including best director for Almond.

Almond's trilogy has been likened to the films of Ingmar Bergman for their metaphysical exploration of the female lead character. Written, produced and directed by Almond, all three films star Bujold (Almond’s wife from 1967 to 1973), whose characters embark on intense periods of self-doubt as they struggle to rebuild their sense of self. In Isabel, she is haunted by ghosts from her past. In Act of the Heart, she questions her belief in God; and in Journey she is stripped of her memory. Taken as a whole, the films possess a level of depth and introspection that English Canadian cinema wouldn't see again until the films of Atom Egoyan 20 years later. They were ahead of their time and, although critical successes, uniformly failed at the box office.

Almond was later called on to direct the ill-fated Final Assignment (1980). Ups and Downs (1981), which he wrote, produced and directed, was based on his experiences in boarding school. He directed the American-financed Captive Hearts (1987) and was reunited with Bujold one more time for The Dance Goes On (1991), which he also wrote and produced. He won a Genie Award for best direction of a non-theatrical film for Every Person Is Guilty (1980), made for the CBC series For the Record.

Retirement and Career as Author

In the 1990s, Almond retired to Malibu, California, and became active in local community theatre. A retrospective of his films was organized and screened across Canada in 2000–01, and the Audio-Visual Society of Canada designated Isabel a Masterwork in 2006. From his summer home in Shigawake, Québec, Almond also wrote the Alford Saga, a well-regarded series of eight romantic adventure novels based on the lives of his pioneer ancestors, set in England and Gaspé, Québec, between 1800 and 2000.

Personal Life

From 1957 to 1964, Almond was married to ballerina Angela Leigh, a founding member and principal dancer of the National Ballet. He and his second wife, Geneviève Bujold, had a son, Matthew Almond, and were married from 1967 to 1973. Almond was married to his third wife, photographer Joan Almond (née Harwood Elkins), from 1976 until his death in 2015 due to complications from heart disease.

Awards

Direction – Feature (Act of the Heart), Canadian Film Awards (1970)

Outstanding Direction in a Dramatic Film – Non-Feature (Every Person is Guilty), Genie Awards (1980)

Officer, Order of Canada (2001)

Golden Jubilee Award, Governor General of Canada (2002)

Lifetime Achievement Award, Directors Guild of Canada (2007)

Writings

The Deserter (McArthur & Co., 2010)

The Survivor (McArthur & Co., 2011)

The Pioneer (McArthur & Co., 2012)

The Pilgrim (McArthur & Co., 2012)

The Chaplain (Sulby Hall Publishers, 2013)

The Gunner (Red Deer Press, 2014)

The Hero (Red Deer Press, 2014)

The Inheritor (Red Deer Press, 2015)


Further Reading

  • Janet Edsforth, The Flame Within (1972).

    James Leach, “Paul Almond’s Fantastic Trilogy,” ed. Seth Feldman, Take Two: A Tribute to Film in Canada (Irwin, 1984).

    Wyndham Wise, ed., Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film (University of Toronto Press, 2001).

    George Melnyk, One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema (University of Toronto Press, 2004).

External Links