Filmmaker Norman Jewison Dies Aged 97

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Norman Jewison, a versatile filmmaker whose impactful career spanned over 50 years, passed away at the age of 97 at his home, as confirmed by family spokesperson Jeff Sanderson. The Canadian director left an indelible mark on cinema, earning Academy Award nominations for best director in three diverse genres: the socially conscious drama “In the Heat of the Night,” the lavish musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” and the romantic comedy “Moonstruck.”

Born on July 21, 1926, in Toronto, Norman Jewison’s journey from Canadian television to Hollywood included a notable contribution to films that addressed social issues. His acclaimed work, “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), explored racial tensions in the American South and garnered five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Norman Jewison’s ability to balance serious themes with humor and humanity was appreciated by actors like Sidney Poitier, who praised the director’s approach to creating a relaxed environment on set.

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While Norman Jewison did not win an Oscar for directing, his films and the actors in them earned numerous accolades, totaling 46 nominations. He expressed a deep connection to movies addressing civil rights and social justice, attributing this preference to his lifelong sense of being an outsider. Despite facing childhood teasing due to his surname and encountering bigotry during a trip through the segregated American South, Jewison’s commitment to storytelling persisted.

After serving in the Canadian Navy during World War II and graduating from the University of Toronto, Norman Jewison rose through the ranks of television, directing specials for the BBC, CBC, and CBS. His directorial debut in film was “40 Pounds of Trouble” (1962), followed by successful collaborations with stars like Doris Day and Steve McQueen.

Jewison’s pivotal moment came with “In the Heat of the Night,” which triumphed over iconic films like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate” for the Best Picture Oscar. Despite his success, Norman Jewison grew disillusioned with the political climate in the United States, leading him to move to London and work abroad for several years.

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Returning to North America, Jewison continued to explore serious themes in films such as “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973), and “Moonstruck” (1987). His filmography also included projects like “A Soldier’s Story” (1984) and “The Hurricane” (1999), showcasing a continued interest in racial injustice and social issues.

Beyond his contributions to cinema, Norman Jewison founded the Canadian Film Center in 1988, a film school and institution in Toronto. His lifetime achievements were recognized with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the 1999 Academy Awards and a lifetime achievement award from the Directors Guild of America in 2010. In 2011, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a retrospective of his work.

Reflecting on his philosophy, Jewison stated, “For me, films are about ideas. Every director should ask himself, ‘Why am I making this picture?’ And if you can’t answer that, you shouldn’t make it.”

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