By: Cilia Sawadogo, June 2007
Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour for us to present to you Mr. Grant Munro, an esteemed Canadian animator, actor, director, scriptwriter and editor.
A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Grant Munro launched his artistic journey making flip books and creating countless sketches of Buck Rogers to amuse his little brother. As an adolescent, he studied fine arts, working in sculpture and still life. He entered the Ontario College of Art in 1941, and studied with, among others, Franklin Carmichael, a member of the Group of Seven, who, he says, was his favourite teacher and severest critic.
Grant Munro was hired in 1941 by the great Norman McLaren to be part of his very small animation unit at the relatively new National Film Board of Canada, a federal government agency. His first job was to work solely on main titles and credits. The first main title was created for a documentary Salt From The Earth. They were carved from a block of cow salt in roman letters, and animated on a turntable. After viewing this early work, and knowing of Munro's background in music and dance, McLaren encouraged him to attempt animated films. Among these were Canada Carries On, World In Action, and a series called Let’s All Sing Together and Chants Populaires. He would also co-animate in films such as My Financial Career, and appear in Canon, Christmas Cracker, and Ballot-O-Maniac.
Of that period, Grant Munro says: "We were developing what we thought were new techniques. It was so exciting, you could barely leave the filmmaking area. There was always sharing and enthusiasm. It was a great time."
In 1947 and 1948, Munro took a sabbatical in Mexico, painting and doing silver work. Upon his return to Canada, he worked briefly at Crawley Films, in Ottawa, in their art department, and then, once again, at the NFB, he scripted, animated and directed a series of instructional films for the Canadian Air Force.
Then Grant Munro renewed his long-term collaboration with Norman McLaren on a pixellation project, called Neighbours. He joined the 8-minute production as editor and actor. The film is widely remembered for his memorable performance as a gentle neighbour transformed into a murderous sociopath. Produced during the Korean War, Neighbours became one of the most acclaimed NFB productions, emerging as an anti-war classic an becoming the second-ever Canadian film to win an Academy Award.
All told, he directed and co-directed 19 films. In 1966, the period of the Vietnam War, he directed Toys. This 8-minute film was produced to show children the horrors of war, and Munro achieved this by animating GI-Joe action figures. Toys would earn a Palme d'Or for Best Short Film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
Throughout his career, Grant Munro has communicated through image, gestures, and humour, rather than words.
Mister Chancellor, let us therefore look at a sample of his images, namely his 1970 horror film Ashes of Doom preceded by excerpts from his earliest animation Three Blind Mice from 1945, his 1952 McLaren Two Bagatelles, and an excerpt from his Oscar pixillated collaboration with Norman winning collaboration with McLaren from the same frisky but chilling anti-war masterpiece Neighbours:
(SCREENING: APPROXIMATELY 7 MINUTES)
Grant Munro also produced and directed documentaries. His favourite remains 1975's Boo Hoo - the sad, witty and bizarre film which follows an elderly undertaker through a St. John, New Brunswick cemetery. He also produced and directed Tours en l'Air, a documentary on the lives of Canadian ballet dancers, David and Anna-Marie Holmes, which won first prize in the performing art category at the American Film Festival.
At this Fine Arts convocation, let us not forget Grant Munro's contribution as an educator. In the 1970s, he co-directed and co-produced with Norman Mclaren a five-part short series, which examines the various aspects of McLaren’s technique, and disseminated to a new generation of film students and cinephiles this priceless artistic legacy.
He has lectured, served on juries at film competitions, and worked with hospitalized children. One pet project saw him team up with doctors at the Montreal Children’s Hospital to create super-8 films with kids with learning disabilities.
Munro’s contribution to film has been recognized by colleagues, critics, students, and even governments. In 1970 he helped Cuba to reorganize the animation department of its film agency.
To celebrate his 80th birthday, there were tributes from the Museum of Modern Art, in New York and he Cinematheque Quebecoise, as well as workshops in Annecy, France, with talented young animation students.
Munro is the subject o two DVDs produced by Milstone Film and Video, called Cut-Up, The Films of Grant Munro. He continues to take an active interest in the arts. Although he retired from the National Film Board in 1988, his influence on Canadian animation through his films, collaboration with other artists and his educational activities is undeniable, and he provides a legacy for generations of filmmakers.
Grant Munro lives in Montreal with, as he describes it, his rubber stamps and other peculiar things.
Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is our privilege and honour to present to you Grant Munro so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
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