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BIOGRAPHY

 


Dick Fontaine is a filmmaker and teacher who has made over forty films for television and theatrical release. His achievements span four decades of filmmaking, during which time he has introduced new techniques and styles to the film industry and played a pivotal role in shaping television’s investigative journalism and representation of popular culture. His work is characterised by a strong desire to push the boundaries of documentary form in particular.

Fontaine’s journalistic background and early experience with Cinema Vérité are at the core of his vibrant story-telling, which immediately captures and holds the attention and imagination of the viewer. He has long been using his films to investigate and bring to light below-the-radar stories about the American civil rights movement, the motivations and inspirations of key jazz artists and the evolution of African American popular music. He has combined his career as a filmmaker with an active role in the initiation of new structures to further cinema, particularly in teaching.

Since 1995 Fontaine has run the prestigious Documentary Department at the postgraduate National Film and Television School in the UK. At the NFTS, he has worked with graduates like influential provocateur Nick Broomfield and great observational filmmaker Kim Longinotto, to mentor a new generation of documentarists who are making a major impact in the UK and abroad, like Simon Chambers, Sandhya Suri and George Amponsah.

In 1993 Dick Fontaine started a film production course at The School of Visual Arts in New York. He has led courses in Independent Production, Filmmaking during the US Civil Rights Era and Black Images in Film at MIT, Amherst College, Rutgers University, New York University, and The State University of New York. In 2005 he accepted an invitation by the Berlin Festival to be a mentor for its Talent Campus. He has taught teachers for the British Film Institute and at various community video projects in London.

Dick Fontaine began his career after graduating with an MA in Moral Sciences at Cambridge University and joined Granada Television in Manchester in 1962. At Granada Fontaine was first engaged as a researcher and was much involved with the birth of the local music scene led famously, by The Beatles. He was the youngest producer / director in Britain at the time and was a founder member of Granada’s legendary investigative film series World in Action. This breakthrough programme was the first current affairs television series to have a point of view, winning it a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award in 1963.

Fontaine was the first filmmaker to introduce the techniques of Direct Cinema to UK television in the Sixties. His groundbreaking and highly successful films, made with the founders of the genre, the Maysles Brothers, explored beneath the shiny surface of the new celebrity industry. The films include a record of The Beatles’ first trip to New York, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! and a portrait of Jean Shrimpton, then the world’s top model, The Face on the Cover. At the time, these films were two of the most watched documentaries ever. He made the first of Granada’s flagship documentary series This England, Madam Six, a poetic film about the new Northern motorway. Fontaine also made the first of the influential BBC series One Pair of Eyes, Temporary Person Passing Through, a record of great British journalist James Cameron’s love affair with India.

He was responsible, along with Mike Hodges, for the most influential experimental arts series made for television in the sixties, New Tempo. In 1970 Fontaine and other filmmakers co-founded the film co-operative, Tattooist International. TI was formed to combine the resources of the independent film community, and to encourage students and factory workers to produce agit prop and innovative work for alternative and conventional media, including the first music videos. Fontaine was fascinated by the potential of reflexive cinema, and under the TI banner, he made award-winning experimental films like Double Pisces, Scorpio Rising, the British entry to the New York Film Festival in 1972.


His background as a musician steered Fontaine into producing a wide range of films exploring culture through music with the likes of Kathleen Battle, Betty Carter, John Cage, Johnny Rotten, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. His film with Art Blakey, The Jazz Messenger, has won numerous awards and was widely distributed theatrically in the US. He made the first films to acknowledge and dramatise the now ubiquitous sub culture of Hip Hop with the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Zulu Nation, 3-D and Goldie. Fontaine has also produced groundbreaking stage shows with Hip Hop and Jazz for young people and has made a large number of experimental and commercial music video projects with Hip Hop, Jazz and classical music.


In the seventies, Fontaine was asked by President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to direct their Ujaamaa Cinema Project and to set up a film training programme in Dar-es-Salaam. The president’s aim was to provide backup for his programme of social change and to establish an ongoing Tanzanian cinema.


He has written the feature films Why are We in Vietnam? based on a Norman Mailer novel, A Very Private Life with Michael Frayn , Who Killed Cock Robin? about the political assassinations in the U.S. during the sixties. Fontaine has also written a play, Tomorrow Brought Us Rain, using the work of James Baldwin and recently workshopped in New York.


Dick Fontaine sits on the following Boards:
The Dochouse
Sheffield International Documentary Festival
He is a mentor at the Berlin Festival’s Talent Campus.
Retrospectives of his films have been shown at Harvard and in festivals in New York and Montreal.
His films are now held at the Harvard Film Archive

 

 

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