A tinge of director Paul Almond's contempt for Hollywood pomp would surface when he told stories about his career. One in particular was about the time he got Paramount Pictures to back his 1968 film Isabel.
A Canadian film getting Hollywood funding is rare. Back then, it was practically unheard of, and a major coup for Mr. Almond and his second wife, actress Geneviève Bujold, who made the first of a trilogy of films together, including Act of the Heart in 1970 and Journey in 1972.
Mr. Almond, who died on April 9 at the age of 83 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, from complications following a recent heart attack, would tell his stories with a slightly breathless exuberance.
"All the big Hollywood studios were owned by moguls," he once told a small group at a book signing in 2012, captured on video and now on YouTube.
Around the time he was pitching Isabel, Hollywood studios were being bought by larger conglomerates. Gulf & Western, under industrialist-turned-mogul Charles Bluhdorn, had snapped up Paramount Pictures.
It was a tense time in the industry. Getting an appointment with a newly appointed mogul was never a sure-fire bet, even for Mr. Almond and Ms. Bujold, with long track records.
They made the trip to Hollywood to pitch their idea. He called Mr. Bluhdorn's office.
"And I said: 'Geneviève, Geneviève, listen! We got an appointment with Charlie Bluhdorn. We're going to his office!'
"And she said: 'No, we're not.'
"I said: 'What do you mean?'
"She said: 'Tell him to come here!'"
The punchline got a round of applause at the book signing. The ploy worked. The couple wound up meeting the mogul in the hotel coffee shop, Mr. Almond recounted, and they received his backing, even though Mr. Bluhdorn had little sense about Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula, let alone the community of Shigawake, where the film was to take place.
Yet Isabel, a film with mystical, Ingmar Bergman undertones intended for art-house audiences, was one of many projects that tied Mr. Almond to his family's Gaspé heritage.
Born in Montreal on April 26, 1931, Mr. Almond was the son of Anglican minister Eric Almond, who had served as a gunner in the First World War and who became a central figure in a series of novels his son wrote late in life.
Growing up, Mr. Almond considered himself a writer rather than a filmmaker. After studying at McGill University, he continued on to the University of Oxford, where he studied political science, philosophy and economics, and edited The Isis Magazine, a literary journal.
He even played semi-pro hockey for a spell in the early 1950s in Italy.
"He really considered himself a poet in those days. So, when he went to get a job, I mean, he had to work! He was dating this dancer, Angela Leigh [who became his first wife], and she said: 'You'd better work,'" said Joan Almond, his third wife.
An officer of the Order of Canada, Mr. Almond is credited with directing more than 130 dramas at the CBC after returning to Canada, during the heyday of early Canadian television in the 1950s and 1960s. And back in England in the 1960s, he directed programs for Granada Television and others, followed by his independent Canadian film work.
It was in England where he received his widest international acclaim, directing Seven Up!, the 1964 British television documentary. The conceit was simple: interview 14 children from different classes from around Britain. The conclusions viewers might draw about Britain's class system were left wide open.
One of the most celebrated of documentaries, Seven Up! originally was produced for Granada Television's World in Action. Normally, the current-affairs program at the time ran 25 minutes, but Seven Up! was given a special 45-minute slot, helping to ensure its success.
After Mr. Almond presented the idea to Sidney Bernstein, head of Granada, "he named it Seven Up!, which of course we knew as this drink. And we kind of thought: 'This is horrible, but hey, he's the boss.' And he said fine, and it actually turned out [well] because we [now] talk about the Up Series," Mr. Almond told an audience years later, in 2010, at a Montreal screening of the series.
The documentary was developed into a series by director Michael Apted, an assistant on the original film, who subsequently revisited the children every seven years. As with all lives, those of the films' subjects are formed by everyday regrets and rewards, contentment and pain. Some of them are shown on camera semi-jokingly ruing the day they were picked to appear as kids in the first place. Mr. Almond's intention was to explore Britain's rigid class system, but the subsequent films do reveal a degree of class mobility. The series, including the most recent instalment, 2012's 56 Up, has been much copied around the world.
"He loved the fact that somebody had actually gone back and done the thing every seven years. But he didn't like the fact that he [Mr. Apted] didn't mention Paul ever," Joan Almond added with a laugh.
With the original, "I wasn't and I'm still not big on all the social stuff," Mr. Almond said at the Montreal screening. "I picked all these interesting kids. I thought they were all interesting. I loved them. I had a terrible time watching, because I was crying all the way through [the screening], because I felt for the poor little kids."
Filmed in black and white, Seven Up! doesn't pander to sentimentality or moral judgment (at least not too much by mid-1960s British television standards), and it's clear from Mr. Almond's comments about the film that this was his intention. He simply wanted the children to have their own say.
"So it wasn't like, 'Oh wow, I'm telling all of these class things.' No, I was just making a film with these kids. And they were really interesting little kids, I thought," he said. The fact that he was a Canadian helped give him more freedom perhaps to film the British children more objectively, he added.
Tony Walker, a tough, little East End boy who wanted to be a jockey but eventually became a London taxi driver with a minor acting career, kept in touch with Mr. Almond throughout the years. Mr. Almond and Joan had stayed with Mr. Walker's family in England, and the Walkers visited the Almonds in Malibu, Calif.
"We kept in touch with him, always have been. Great pals," Ms. Almond said. "He was really the only one that Paul kept in touch with."
Mr. Almond was also assisted on the original film by Gordon McDougall, who helped find the children with Mr. Apted. Giving credit where credit's due, Mr. Almond criticized Mr. Apted, who went on to direct a slew of major Hollywood films, from Coal Miner's Daughter to the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, for not mentioning Mr. McDougall's original contribution later on in the series. "But that's how it goes with people once you're in Hollywood and you get power," Mr. Almond told the Montreal audience.
Mr. Almond's own career in both television and independent film is often credited for having opened doors for later Canadian filmmakers, such as Atom Egoyan and others doing expressive, challenging work. Yet, after four decades in the business, Mr. Almond felt the need to get out.
Sure, he still had pangs sometimes in Malibu whenever he would pass by a film or television show shooting on location. But his calling was to focus on writing, diving into what became a series of eight novels based on 200 years of his family ties to the Gaspé. "He thought it was going to be just one book," Ms. Almond said. But after The Deserter (2010), he wound up writing seven more volumes.
Still, "it was a shock to his system a bit, getting out of the film business and going into writing. It was. I mean, we drive down by the PCH [the Pacific Coast Highway], and there'd be a whole bunch of [film] trucks out there, and he'd laugh and say: 'Thank God, I'm not doing that!'
"But you know, you kind of get this thing in your stomach," she said. "He had to get out of it. He just couldn't stand it. He had been in it for 40 years. He was a writer even before he was at the CBC. He was a poet at Oxford. Writing was part of his thing. He wrote all of the scripts for his films. So when he turned to writing novels, he gave up the film business."
After his first marriage to ballerina Angela Leigh, a founding member of the National Ballet of Canada, and second marriage to Ms. Bujold, he married Joan, a photographer, who happened to live near where Ms. Bujold and Mr. Almond's son, Matthew, lived in Malibu. In addition to his son, Mr. Almond leaves stepsons Trey, Tim and Chris Elkins, stepdaughter Tracy Stoker and eight grandchildren.
Leaving the film business didn't mean losing contact. He continued to stay in touch with many of the artists he had worked with, including actress Maggie Smith.
"We saw Maggie Smith when we were in London a few years ago. He always kept in touch with his people, and he has great friends, and he had great stories. They always thought that when Paul called, they had to talk," Ms. Almond said.
Her husband never wanted to make it big in Hollywood, though. He disliked the Hollywood machine and the hype. Or so he said. "He didn't like all the publicity," Ms. Almond said, then paused. "Well, you never know."