Hoppenheim’s investment in Canadian cinema has helped pump millions of dollars into the local economy and created myriad new jobs. In 1997, he gave $1 million to Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts to support students enrolled in film programs. In recognition of his generosity, the Department of Cinema was renamed the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema that same year.
The school has since become the largest university-based centre for the study of film in Canada, and has developed into a foremost training ground for future scholars, helping to launch the careers of some 2,500 alumni.
Each year, the school honours the best graduating film production student with the Mel Hoppenheim Award.
“Faculty, staff and students at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema are saddened to learn of the passing of our school’s benefactor,” said Martin Lefebvre, chair of the cinema school.
“For decades, Mr. Hoppenheim stood as a passionate advocate for our Film Production and Animation programs, and his continuous commitment was reflected through his many generous and varied contributions to our school and through his support for our students. Our community will miss him dearly.”
Hoppenheim officially joined the Concordia family in June 2009 when he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws at convocation, alongside graduates of the Faculty of Fine Arts.
“We are grateful to Mel Hoppenheim for his community leadership and philanthropy that have empowered so many of our students,” said Paul Chesser, BA 94, GrDip 97, vice-president of Advancement at Concordia. “We are deeply grateful for his unwavering support of our university.”
A mindset for success
Hoppenheim was born in Montreal in 1937 to humble and hardworking parents — his father was a Polish immigrant and his mother a native Montrealer of Russian descent.
At age 12, following his father’s sudden death, Hoppenheim joined the workforce to help support his mother, sister and brother. Although he continued to attend school until he was 17, he spent every lunch hour working in the family meat business. His evenings were spent making deliveries for the local shoemaker and weekends were consumed with other odd jobs.
In his convocation address in 2009, Hoppenheim described these early struggles as pivotal moments that paved the course of his future. “The hard work shaped me and gave me the courage to return to school at night to get my diploma at Sir George Williams University [one of Concordia’s two founding institutions].”