John Dunning: Film producer and mentor to David Cronenberg

While some actors, producers and directors left Canada to find more opportunities in Hollywood, John Dunning stayed in his homeland to become a pioneer who helped to establish the country's film industry.

Among those directors whose careers he helped to launch was David Cronenberg, who credited him as his mentor. Dunning produced Cronenberg's early "body horror" films Shivers (1975), about residents of an apartment block infecting others after parasites have turned them into mindless, sex-crazed fiends, and Rabid (1977), starring the porn actress Marilyn Chambers as a woman who has plastic surgery following an accident and develops an orifice under her armpit that contains a phallic stinger which feeds on the blood of other people.

The producer was also responsible for the screwball summer-camp comedy Meatballs (1979), an international box-office hit which took $46m in North America alone. The film gave the American actor Bill Murray his first starring role and an early directing opportunity to Ivan Reitman, who went on to produce and direct Ghostbusters and other films in Hollywood.

Dunning enjoyed a long professional partnership with a fellow producer, André Link. They set up Cinépix in 1960 as a distributor of films mostly from Europe and the US, such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and other early pictures directed by Russ Meyer.

The pair started to produce their own sexploitation films, beginning with Valérie, a 1969 French-language comedy that grossed more than C$1m and held the Quebec box-office record until 1995. Similar productions – dubbed "maple syrup porn" by the American film-trade magazine Variety – followed, including Sex Isn't Sin (1970), Virgin Lovers (1970) and The Importance of Being Sexy (1971).

Some were screened in European cinemas, but they were eventually followed by horror pictures and thrillers. The Montreal-based Cinépix became a cottage industry, with a reputation for making low-budget films. As a distributor, the company later took acclaimed pictures such as Strictly Ballroom (1992) and The Piano (1993) to Canadian audiences.

In 1997, Dunning and Link sold Cinépix to the newly formed Lions Gate Entertainment and it was renamed Lions Gate Films, with the pair remaining in charge and setting it on the path to becoming one of the world's most commercially successful independent film producers.

Born in Montreal in 1927, Dunning had an early inauguration into the film business. His father screened newsreel footage from the boot of his car to audiences across Quebec, then owned cinemas in Montreal. At the age of 13, Dunning served sweets at the Century Theatre and, four years later, took over as manager following the sudden death of his father.

During his years with Cinépix, Dunning – who wrote some screenplays and storylines himself – was proud that 90 per cent of its productions were made in Quebec. Another of his associates who went on to success in Hollywood was Don Carmody, the company's vice-president of production, who later produced pictures such as Porky's and Chicago.

One of Dunning's films as executive producer following the launch of Lions Gate was The First 9 Weeks (1998), starring Paul Mercurio, Malcolm McDowell and Clara Bellar. Two years ago, he re-made the 1981 Cinépix slasher film My Bloody Valentine in 3D.

In 1993, Dunning and Link were presented with a Genie Award for outstanding contribution to the Canadian film industry. They won similar awards at the 1999 Montreal World Film Festival and this year's Fantasia Film Festival.

John Dunning, producer: born Montreal 27 April 1927; married 1957 Jean Myzner (one son, one daughter deceased); died Montreal 19 September 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy