Documentary industry honours Rudy Buttignol

April has been a momentous month for York film grad Rudy Buttignol.

On April 12, the former TVOntario executive director of documentaries was named as interim president and chief executive officer of the Knowledge Network, British Columbia’s public education broadcaster.

                                          Right: Rudy Buttignol

On April 24, he receives the first industry achievement award at an invitation-only event at the 2007 Hot Docs Canadian Intenational Documentary Festival in Toronto. 

At this stage in his career, the synergy couldn’t have been better. The Hot Docs award acknowledges the arc of a long, creative and productive career. And the new job signals, it ain’t over yet. He’s already pumped. "I’m absolutely thrilled not only to be taking the Knowledge Network into the digital age, but also to be moving to Vancouver with my wife."

The Hot Docs Outstanding Industry Achievement Award goes to an individual who has made a longstanding contribution to the creative vitality of the documentary industry at home and abroad.

There’s no doubt that Buttignol fits the bill.

During the past three decades, he has produced compelling work as an independent producer, director and writer. He has mentored and kickstarted the careers of many young filmmakers and played a leading role in promoting and nurturing the documentary community at home and abroad.

"Rudy’s impact on the Canadian film and television industry has been immeasurable. He has great instincts, impeccable taste and a big heart," said Chris McDonald, executive director of Hot Docs, in a recent media release.

Born in Pordenone, Italy, Buttignol came to Canada in 1955. He made his first film in high school, earned a BFA in film from York in 1982 and became an independent documentary filmmaker for 18 years. In 1993, he stepped back from the camera lens to join TVO, first as its commissioning editor and creative head of independent production, then as creative head of network programming. As executive producer of the acclaimed international documentary series "Human Edge" and "Masterworks", of TVO’s weekly "Saturday Night at the Movies", and founder of the multiple Gemini Award-winning documentary series "The View from Here", he has been a vital force behind many of the important documentaries made in Canada over the past 14 years.

At TVO, he commissioned such notable documentaries as Alan King’s Genie Award-winning Dying at Grace (2004); the Oscar-nominated Hardwood (2005);  the Gemini Award-winning Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998); and Emmy Award-winning The Life of Paul Bowles (1999). Limited series he commissioned include Emmy Award-winner Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by Bach. His programs have appeared on A&E, C4, CBC, Discovery USA, Global and PBS. For the past year, as an independent media consultant, he has continued to commission documentaries for TVO.

He has also played a leading role in building the Canadian documentary industry. He is a founding member of the Hot Docs festival, and has served as Chair of the Toronto Documentary Forum, governor of the Banff Television Foundation and Chair of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

The Hot  Docs award "is a recognition of the work I have done throughout my career, not just in Canada but around the world," Buttignol said in a recent interview. "I’ve been helping the documentary community break into the mainstream."

A generation ago, he said, documentaries were deemed an illegitimate form. There was little funding for them on TV, there were no documentaries shown in theatres. "If you made a successful documentary, people asked when you were going to make a real film." Feature films were the only legitimate form. "That’s changed," he said.

Documentaries have become agents of change in the world, he said. Just returned from a speaking tour that took him from Reykjavik to Sydney and many points in between, Buttignol noted that "every government in the world is falling all over itself to turn green." Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth might have been the tipping point, he said, but "I can’t help think that a generation of documentaries has been responsible." People the world over are so conscious of environmental and human rights issues because they have seen documentaries and these are the topics documentaries touch on the most, he suggested.

"Where documentaries were once perceived as a fringe form, they are now an incredibly influential form that actually helps make change," said Buttignol. He’s proud to be part of that world documentary movement.

And he’ll never retire. "I’ve been making films since I was 14 years old," says Buttignol. "I don’t think I’ll ever stop."

This article was written by Martha Tancock, York communications officer.