Simesite has learned from the son-in-law of longtime Canadian stringer for Variety in Canada of the death of Gerald Pratley, who passed away in a hospital in Belleville, Ontario, on March 14 at age 87.
The last time most of us saw Pratley was at the party thrown in Sardi’s restaurant in New York in 2005 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Variety by Sime Silverman, an event hosted by Sime’s grandson Syd Silverman, his wife and children. Pratley was one of those contributed news stories in Canada back in the 1970s and filed copy under the aegis of Toronto bureau chief, the late Sid Adilman. He was a regular at many of the yearly Variety receptions thrown by Syd during the Cannes Film Festival.
Pratley’s death has been well covered by the Canadian news media. We here quote the story posted on the Web by Northernstars.ca, the Canadian Movie Database. The photo is courtesy of former Variety stringer Antonia Zerbisias.
There was a time when it seemed you could not talk about Canadian film without the mention of Gerald Pratley. Born in England in 1923, Pratley moved to Canada in 1946 and began working for CBC radio in Toronto first as a scriptwriter and then, in 1948, he became the network’s first film reviewer. The timing of what would turn out to be a lifelong career devoted to Canadian film was perfect. His assignment as a film reviewer came just as Canada’s film industry was beginning to find its own legs and Pratley’s perch at the national broadcaster allowed him to spread the word from coast to coast.
Largely because of that accident of timing, and his ardent fervor for excellence, he became involved in a number of groups and associations far beyond the realms of a simple reviewer. He was active with the Toronto Film Society and the Toronto and District Film Council. He 1967 he started the Ontario Film Theatre Program (OFT) at the old Radio City Cinema. This evolved into the Ontario Film Institute based in a purpose built facility at the Ontario Science Centre where Pratley served as founder and director and was responsible for cataloguing and exhibiting world cinema. Over a period of twenty years, from 1969 to 1989, the OFT ran the most ambitious and most complete film screenings in the province. During those years, 47 countries (from Algeria to Yugoslavia) and over 1400 directors were represented by 322 separate programs, not including innovative children’s programming and programs for senior citizens.
Provincial cutbacks during the recession of 1982-83 severely restricted the operating budget of the OFT. Staff was reduced and the traditional five showings a week dropped to two or three, and in some months to no film nights at all. It was only Pratley’s stubborn resolve that kept the Film Theatre operating at all during these dark years. It was only later in the ’80s that the financial situation got marginally better. After many studies and suggestions, the Film Theatre and Institute were absorbed by the Toronto Festival of Festivals to become the Festival/Cinematheque, thus preserving Pratley’s 20 years of service to the Ontario film community and giving the Festival a year-round presence. It was this role, in bringing international films to Toronto that was probably his greatest achievement, but his impact on Canadian filmmakers was just as important.
Pratley wrote various books, among them: Torn Sprockets: The Uncertain Projection of the Canadian Film, A Century of Canadian Cinema: Gerald Pratley’s Feature Film Guide, which charted productions dating back to the silent film era; The Films of Frankenheimer: Forty Years in Film; The Cinema of John Frankenheimer; The Cinema of Otto Preminger; The Cinema of David Lean and The Cinema of John Huston.
As a film historian, Pratley spent time on the advisory boards for the film departments at both Ryerson University and Humber College. The Gerald Pratley Award was established in 1991 by the Film Studies Association of Canada in tribute to Pratley’s contribution to the advancement of Canadian film studies. He was given honorary degrees from Toronto’s York University, the University of Waterloo and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He was a director of the Stratford International Film Festival from 1970 to 1975 and in 1984, he was named a member of the Order of Canada and was invested at the officer level in 2003. He also received a special prize at the 2002 Genie Awards, when organizers presented him with a special trophy recognizing his lifelong dedication to the promotion of Canadian cinema.
Gerald is survived by his wife Margaret, and daughters Orize, Denise and Jocelyn.