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Matthiew Klinck (left) and Thomas Michael on the set of Hank and Mike in 2008. (Everett Collection)
Matthiew Klinck (left) and Thomas Michael on the set of Hank and Mike in 2008. (Everett Collection)

film

Following tragedy in Belize, a look back at the career of Quebec filmmaker Matthiew Klinck Add to ...

On Monday, police found the body of Canadian filmmaker Matthiew Klinck, 37, near his home in Selena Village, Belize. According to the San Pedro Sun, Klinck was stabbed to death during an apparent burglary. As officials begin to investigate the killing, and Canadian consular officials provide assistance to Klinck’s family, a picture has emerged of a talented filmmaker whose career was just about to enter an exciting new stage.

Small-screen start

Klinck was from the former city of Aylmer, Que. (the city became a sector of the city of Gatineau in 2002). Along with fellow Aylmer natives Thomas Michael and Paolo Mancini, Klinck created the half-hour sketch comedy series Y B Normal?, which aired on the local Rogers Cable channel before being sold to the Comedy Network in 1998, where it lasted two seasons.

Among the characters featured on that series were two crude out-of-work Easter bunnies (played by Michael and Mancini, in pink costumes), which the trio later developed into the leads for a 2000 short film, and then the 2008 feature Hank and Mike.

"He was a genius. He was directing and producing industrial videos for the Quebec Ministry of Education at age 10, winning national awards along the way," Mancini recalled in an interview Wednesday with The Globe and Mail."Matthiew was brimming with passion and creativity that is absolutely infectious."

Greg & Gentillon

But before the creative partners worked on Hank & Mike, Mancini, Michael and Klinck produced their first feature film, the 2005 mockumentary Greg & Gentillon. The low-budget bilingual comedy followed the exploits of two small-time Quebecois comedians as they set their sights on fame and fortune. Klinck directed, produced, shot and edited the film, while Mancini and Thomas wrote the screenplay and starred, alongside frequent collaborator and fellow Aylmer native Louis Durand.

After playing a brief run on the Canadian festival circuit, the film opened to enthusiastic reviews in 2007, with Montreal’s The Gazette praising its “subtle satire” and engaging, Borat-like structure. The Globe’s Rick Groen awarded it three stars, singling out the comedy’s sly and occassionally heartfelt moments.

Actors Thomas Michael (left) and Paolo Mancini in a scene from Hank and Mike. (Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)

Hank and Mike

Three years later, the Aylmer collective were back on the big screen with Hank and Mike – and with a significantly bigger budget, too. While Greg & Gentillon cost just $275,000, the new film cobbled together a $1.8-million budget to tell the tale of two vulgar Easter bunnies looking for their big break.

Like the group’s first film, Klinck directed and edited the slacker comedy, while Michael and Mancini wrote and starred. The filmmakers even wrangled cameos from famed character actor Joe Mantegna and American Pie star Chris Klein.

"We went from cable access to the Comedy Network to feature films starring alongside Joe Mantegna. It was completely insane," said Mancini."He had a specific vision but nothing was set in stone. There was always room for back and forth."

Adds Mantegna, in an email to The Globe: "I was devastated to hear about the death of Matthiew. I have nothing but fond and funny memories of working with him ... he was yet another example of the fine young talent [Canada] has become noted for in our industry."

Shot in an empty Canadian Tire store in the middle of a Toronto winter, the film was the only movie on the city’s production slate at the time, allowing the project to snap up “all the plum production crews,” according to an interview Michael gave to The Globe and Mail in 2009. “People came on the set and volunteered, just to keep busy.”

Cynthia Amsden, who worked in the props department on the film, recalls Klinck as a filmmaker determined to make his own way in the industry. “He was part of a freshly minted group of filmmakers, strongly supported by Paolo Mancini and Thomas Michael, friends from way back, all of them giddy in that new filmmaker way about charging ahead,” Amsden told The Globe on Wednesday. “He was a charming, running-through-traffic spitfire.”

While the film enjoyed a long run on the festival circuit – including screenings in Hong Kong, Palm Springs, Seattle and Karlovy Vary – it received only middling reviews (The Globe’s Jennie Punter awarded the film just one star, saying it delivered neither “the outside laughs of a broad comedy nor the interior chuckles of darker fare”).

"The films weren't commercial successes, however they do enjoy cult followings, which is nice," Mancini said."Do I wish they'd fared better? Sure. But we were able to make movies with our best friends. That is a dream come true."

Make Belize Films

After Hank and Mike, Klinck worked as a producer and cinematographer for the 2008 feature documentary Tuning In, which explored the psychic “phenomenon of channeling,” and put in work as a cinematographer and editor. In 2011, he decided to move to Belize, where he started his own production company, Make- Belize Films.

"The allure of an exotic oasis appealed to him, I think," Mancini said of the move."A place where a renegade could forge his destiny. And he was well on his way to doing so."

The outfit has since produced a number of films – including Klinck’s feature Curse of the Xtabai – while Klinck also produced La isla Bonita, a Spanish soap opera.

But it was Klinck’s work on an upcoming project that may be his greatest legacy: CBS’s new prime-time drama, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. The hour-long show, starring Gary Sinise (CSI: NY) and Alana de la Garza (Law & Order) is a spinoff of the wildly popular series Criminal Minds, and is set to premiere March 2 on the American network.

Klinck was head of the series’ Belize shooting unit, with the show following “an elite team of FBI agents solving cases regarding American citizens on international soil.”

Other Make-Belize Films clients included Amazon Studios, which was producing its new series Mad Dogs, starring Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club).

“It’s really a shock for all of us in the industry,” Brent Toombs, of the Belize Audio Visual Industry Association, told Channel 5 Belize. “Within a few months of being in Belize he managed to get people excited and believing in his vision that it was possible to make feature films in Belize with really nothing more than just enthusiasm and passion for the craft. I think that’s Matthiew’s legacy: not just the film itself but the fact he was able to get so many people excited about the art of filmmaking.”

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