Buster Keaton and Gerald Potterton during the production of The Railrodder in 1965.
August 24, 2022 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is saddened to learn of the death of filmmaker Gerald Potterton (1931–2022), who died at the Brome-Missisquoi-Perkins Hospital in Cowansville, Quebec, on the evening of Tuesday, August 23, at the age of 91.
A native of London, England, and student of the Hammersmith Art School, Gerald 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. Gerald 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 in one of his last film roles.
Gerald 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.
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.
Gerald 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 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).
“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. 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,” said Claude Joli-Coeur, NFB Chairperson and Government Film Commissioner.
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Making Movie History: Gerald Potterton interview
Gerald Potterton website
French version here | Version française ici.