Doc pioneer Wolf Koenig passes away

German-born documentary pioneer Wolf Koenig (pictured), who spent 47 years working at Canada's National Film Board, has passed away at the age of 86.
June 27, 2014

Documentary pioneer Wolf Koenig (pictured), who spent 47 years working at Canada’s National Film Board (NFB), has passed away at the age of 86.

Over the course of a long career covering documentaries, animation and narrative work, the German-born Canadian filmmaker co-directed several historically significant NFB docs including City of Gold (1957), The Days Before Christmas (1958) and Stravinsky (1965).

Alongside notables such as Terence Macartney-Filgate, Roman Kroitor and Tom Daly, Koenig was one of the principal contributors to the NFB’s Candid Eye series, which was influential in the development of direct cinema.

In a memoriam posting, the Canadian organization praised Koenig’s films “for their sophisticated style and what was often a subtle irony in their observation of human behavior and modern society.”

The NFB noted that the filmmaker designed the animation for Colin Low’s The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1953), winning an award in Cannes; and was also the cinematographer for Corral (1954), Low’s first documentary.

“The style of this film, with its poetic approach and absence of commentary, was a first in a Canadian documentary production,” the organization wrote of the latter.

Other docs he co-directed included Glenn Gould – Off the Record (1959), a portrait of the eponymous pianist; and Lonely Boy (1962), a short film on pop star Paul Anka. Both were co-directed with Roman Kroitor.

Koenig served as exec producer of the NFB’s animation studio from 1962-67 and again from 1972-75. Later in his career, he worked as a producer of docs and animated films, including Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, Alanis Obomsawin’s account of the Oka crisis, before retiring from the NFB in 1995.

In an oft-repeated (and oft-paraphrased) quote about the nature of documentary making and editing, he famously said: “Every cut is a lie. It’s never that way – those two shots were never next to each other in time that way. But you’re telling a lie in order to tell the truth.”

Koenig was born in 1927 and passed away yesterday (June 26). He is survived by his sister Rachel Byck, his brother Joe Koenig, and his nieces Judy, Sarah, Susan, Anne, Nina and Debbie.

Check out his docs Lonely Boy and Glenn Gould – Off the Record, courtesy of the NFB, below:

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.