Toronto filmmaker Charles Officer dies at 48


Charles Officer, an award-winning Canadian filmmaker, producer and writer whose work spanned features, documentary and television, and often centred Black voices and characters, died at his home in Toronto on Friday.

Officer, who was 48, passed away after a long illness, according to his business partner at CaneSuger Filmworks, Jake Yanowski.

Yanowski remembered his long-time creative collaborator as a giant of the Canadian film and television scene who will be deeply missed both by audiences and those in the industry.

“He had a way of connecting with people, listening to people hearing people and engaging with them,” Yanowski told CBC Toronto in an interview Sunday.

“I think he will be most remembered for saying things that matter in his work. For taking a stand.”

Officer produced the CBC television series The Porter and helmed feature-length films from the crime drama Akilla’s Escape to the documentary Unarmed Verses, which told the story of Toronto Community Housing residents who were uprooted while their neighbourhood was revitalized.

Friend remembers an incredible person

Officer also directed four episodes of The Porter. The CBC/BET drama about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — North America’s first Black-led union — won 12 awards at the Canadian Screen Awards in April, including best original music, production, costume design, best writing and best drama series.

Yanowski said when the pair first met, the first thing he noticed was Officer was an incredible person. 

“Before we even started talking about working together and teaming up as producing partners. I saw this as ‘Oh, this is a person you want to know.'”

WATCH | Remembering Charles Officer:

Charles Officer, filmmaker known for work that centred on Black Canadians, has died

Featured VideoCharles Officer, the Toronto filmmaker who directed CBC’s award-winning TV series The Porter, has died at 48. He also directed the 2008 Canadian indie film Nurse.Fighter.Boy and the 2017 National Film Board documentary Unarmed Verses.

He described Officer’s body of work as one that shared voices that were otherwise not being heard in the Canadian film landscape. 

“He fought so hard and he put so much time and energy into getting those stories made,” Yanowski said. 

The Porter was the largest Black-led TV series created in Canada.

“Charles obviously grew up as a young Black kid in Toronto so that he was going to speak to that but he was going to speak to it in the most beautiful and poetic way possible because he was a poet of the screen,” Yanowski said.

Filmmaker Romeo Candido, who knew Officer for over a decade, told CBC News that his friend set the bar for what people in the industry hoped to achieve.

“He had natural talent, he had the charisma.… A lot of us were playing keep up and catch up with Charles,” he said.

“He really shone a light on untold stories and made them dramatic, dynamic. He celebrated people that otherwise would not have been seen. So I think it’s up to the rest of us who are still here to pick up where he left off and keep telling stories about these communities that otherwise won’t see the light of day.”

Multiple award wins

The Toronto International Film Festival remembered Officer as a significant Canadian talent, while the National Film Board said it was grieving his loss.

Officer’s 2008 debut feature, Nurse.Fighter.Boy, premiered at TIFF and was nominated for 10 Genie Awards, the precursor to the Canadian Screen Awards.

WATCH | Officer on the film that changed his life:

How one film changed the way Charles Officer approached his own work

Featured VideoCharles Burnett’s ‘Killer of Sheep’ greatly influenced how Officer distinguished between fiction and non-fiction filmmaking.

Fellow director and film school classmate Sarah Polley said in an Instagram post that Officer made masterpieces.

“This is a big loss. For all of us. And a call, in his gaping absence, to live up to his optimism, his dedication, his constant lifting up of others, his mastery of his craft,” she wrote.

“I saw him in environments where he was dismissed and disrespected. I never once saw his generosity flag. Getting to watch him acknowledged for the genius he was filled me up.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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