Remembering Gil Cardinal

By November 23, 2015 Uncategorized

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of long-time AMPIA member and recent David Billington Award recipient, Gil Cardinal.

Friends of Gil will be gathering at Metro Billiards on Wednesday, December 9 as Gil was as passionate about shooting pool as he was about shooting his films.  Click here for details.

Friends of Gil have established The Gil Cardinal Legacy Fund in his honour, that will be awarded to an aspiring Aboriginal filmmaker. Gil was part of outlining the criteria for this award before his passing.
For those who wish to make a donation, please send a cheque to:

The Gil Cardinal Legacy Fund
Suite 201, 5305 Allard Way
Edmonton, Alberta T6H 5X8


After graduating from the radio and TV arts program of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1971, Gil worked as a studio cameraman at the Alberta Education Communications Corp (Access), where he shot his first film, a documentary about the pianist Marek Jablonski. In 1975 he was promoted to director and associate producer of Come Alive, an hour-long magazine-format show. Another project he directed for Access was Shadow Puppets: Indian Myths and Legends, a series of programs based on Cree and Blackfoot legends.

Gil Cardinal became a senior producer before leaving Access in 1980 to work for the National Film Board (NFB) as a freelance director, researcher, writer and editor. His first film for the Board was Children of Alcohol (1983), a documentary about a group of teenagers and pre-teens focusing on the effects of parental alcoholism. He also shot a series of short documentaries and dramas, notably Hotwalker (1985), co-written by David Billington about racetrack grooms and trainers, before embarking on the very personal Foster Child (1987), a cinéma-vérité documentary about his search for his family roots. His simple, straightforward approach led him to discover the identity of his Métis mother, who ended her tragic life in a series of boarding houses on Edmonton’s skid row. The film was a success on the festival circuit and broadcast on CBC’s “Man Alive” series. Gil Cardinal was awarded a Gemini Award for Best Direction for a Documentary Program in 1988, and Foster Child remains one of the most internationally acclaimed films produced by the NFB.

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Watch Foster Child, courtesy of the National Film Board.

In 1987 Cardinal made Keyanaw Tatuskhatamak, about the struggle for Native self-government among the remote people of Northern Alberta, and in 1988 he directed Bordertown Café, a half-hour drama for the CBC. His other NFB credits include The Spirit Within(1990), on native cultural/spiritual programs in prisons, and David with F.A.S. (1997), an exploration of fetal alcohol syndrome. In 1997, Cardinal was recognized with a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Film and Television.

In 1998 he directed the big-budget CBC miniseries Big Bear, starring Gordon Tootoosis and Tantoo Cardinal (for which Gil Cardinal was nominated for a second Gemini), and in 2006 the CBC drama Indian Summer: The Oka Crisis, about the 1990 standoff between the federal government and the Mohawks of the Kanesatake Reserve. Cardinal has also directed numerous episodes of North of 60, The Rez, and the feature-length documentary Totem: The Return of the G’psgolox Pole, which screened at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival.

Watch Totem: The Return and Renewal, courtesy of the National Film Board.

In 2009, Gil Cardinal wrote the pilot for the TV series Blackstone after gathering extensive research on the issues facing many Aboriginal communities. Now an award-winning series broadcast on CBC, Hulu and APTN, Gil has continued to contribute to the show as a writer and consultant.

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Watch Blackstone, courtesy of the CBC.