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About John Houston







Profile of John Houston

Advisor to the Pangnirtung Printmakers, 1975-1979, 1994, 1998, 2000




John Houston was born in 1954 and spent the first eight years of his life in the Canadian Arctic at Cape Dorset, on Baffin Island. Early immersion in Inuit culture has affected his entire life. While attending schools in England, Ottawa, and later Pickering College in Ontario, John lost his fluency in Inuktitut, but continued to think of the North as home, and spent several summers on the land with Inuit friends. He got his first job in film as coffee boy on Paramount Pictures' 1973 production of The White Dawn, the first novel by his father, James A. Houston.

He graduated from Yale University in 1975, having spent an independent junior year in Paris, printmaking at Atelier 17 while perfecting his French. In the same year, artist Lipa Pitsulak offered him the position of Art Advisor to the Pangnirtung Cooperative's printmaking project. He seized the opportunity to return north and regain his Inuktitut. John enjoyed the position for nearly five years, bringing out four remarkable graphics collections and the story idea for Art of the Arctic Whalemen, a documentary film directed by his father for the Devonian Foundation of Alberta.

After Pangnirtung filmmaking called again and he was off on a 20,000 mile trip across the north, casting Inuit for the film Never Cry Wolf (Disney, 1982) on which he worked with Carroll Ballard as First Assistant Director. Many films followed, from Singapore to Siberia, including rejoining Ballard to film Fly Away Home (Columbia, 1996), however, the north remains his favourite location. With the proceeds from Never Cry Wolf John established Houston North Gallery in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with the help of his mother, the late Alma Houston, who co-owned and operated the gallery until her death in December, 1997. John and his mother were founders of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival; an intimate, international festival of music of the sea, set in a World Heritage Site. In its 21st year, Houston North Gallery continues to be a showcase for Inuit art.

Over twenty years of helping a succession of directors to realize their vision has amounted to an apprenticeship in the craft of filmmaking. John Houston grew up between two great oral traditions; the Inuit and the Celtic, and came to feel it was time to tell his own stories. In 1998, John co-wrote and directed his first film, an award-winning one-hour documentary about his parents, Inuit art pioneers James and Alma Houston, the Inuit of Cape Dorset, and their very special collaboration that launched Inuit art onto the world stage. When he told executive producer Peter d'Entremont that Songs in Stone was in fact the beginning of an Arctic trilogy, an award-winning film partnership began. John and Peter have followed up with Nuliajuk: Mother of the Sea Beasts; a quest for the ancient Inuit goddess, and are currently developing Diet of Souls; a look inside the mind of the Inuit hunter, to complete the trilogy.

Dedicated to supporting Nunavut' emerging Film/TV/New Media industry, John Houston has also been working with the Government of Nunavut and Inuit organizations to facilitate visiting productions such as 'The Snow Walker,' 'Sleep Murder,' and 'Midnight Son.' He is also President of the recently formed Ajjiit Nunavut Media Association, and part of the working group drafting Government of Nunavut policy on Film/TV/New Media.

John lives with his wife Heather and baby Dorset in their Halifax heritage home.


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This page was last updated on Monday February 21, 2005