Producer/Director/Writer JOHN KASTNER
In 2012, Hot Docs honoured him with a retrospective of his work. In 2007 he was honoured by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television with its Achievement Award.
His most recent film, NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (2013) produced in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada has been hailed by mental health and criminal justice professionals as a ground-breaking portrait of forensic psychiatric patients.
LIFE WITH MURDER (2010), also produced in co-production with the National Film Board, focuses on parents struggling to reconcile with their son after he murders his sister. As well as an Emmy, the film won Canada’s Donald Brittain Gemini for Best Documentary, gold and silver Hugo awards at the Chicago Film Festival,and several other awards including a Special Jury Prize at the Houston International Film Festival.
His documentary, MONSTER IN THE FAMILY -- a 2-part film for CTV about an offender’s war with his mother who is campaigning to keep him locked up for life -- won the same award, among others.
His films have been screened at major film festivals including Berlin, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Sheffield and, of course, Hot Docs. Recently, the Cinematheque Quebecoise in Montreal ran a retrospective of his work.
He has won scores of international awards, starting with his first documentary, PROJECT DARE, for CBC-TV’s Schools and Youth Department. The story of a prison bush camp for young offenders, PROJECT DARE, won the (then) highest award for youth TV programs in the world, the Prix Jeunesse in Munich.
In 2004, his trilogy for CBC-TV, RAGE AGAINST THE DARKNESS, followed seniors going into long-term care facilities. One of the films from the series, BUNNY AND LEONA, won several awards including Best Canadian Documentary Feature at 2003 Hot Docs, was a 2003 Prix Italia Finalist, won a 2003 Silver Chris Award and was an official selection of Input 2004 in Barcelona.
Kastner’s documentaries range from the very dark to the very dippy (he’s been described as a documentary Billy Wilder). Three of his documentary "black comedies" were telecast on CBC-TV's Witness: CHICKENS ARE PEOPLE TOO, about the war between chicken rights activists and chicken farmers; SOMEBODY'S GOTTA DO IT, about people who inflict pain for a living, from dentists to dominatrices; and ASK A SILLY QUESTION, which used hilarious bogus opinion polls to raise questions about polling practices.
He often makes films about criminals’ personal relationships including THE LIFER AND THE LADY (an Emmy-winner for PBS Frontline as well as CBC). For CBC-TV: HUNTING BOBBY OATWAY, PRISON MOTHER/PRISON DAUGHTER and, for CTV: MONSTER IN THE FAMILY as well as LIFE WITH MURDER.
Although documentaries are his first love, Kastner has produced, directed, written or performed in nearly every genre of television programming in his long and varied broadcasting career. He began producing at age 21 and his list of credits, (described as “staggering” by Maclean’s magazine in 1981) range from quiz shows (PHOTO FINISH) to current affairs confrontation shows (UNDER ATTACK); from Candid Camera-type segments (90 MINUTES LIVE, STREET COMEDY) to comedies with children (the CTV comedy series JUST KIDDING).
He began in television as a child professional actor, appearing with such stars as John Cassavetes, Leslie Nielsen, Frank Langella, Jill Clayburgh, Celia Johnson and Melvyn Douglas. At age 13, he played Leslie Nielsen’s son in a live television production of Ibsen’s AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. At age 14, he had a supporting lead in Eric Till’s THE OFFSHORE ISLAND, starring Irene Worth and William Hutt, the first CBC-TV drama nominated for an Emmy.
He later co-wrote the first movie for US cable TV for HBO, THE TERRY FOX STORY, starring Robert Duvall, and produced the CBC-TV movie TURNING TO STONE, winner of the Prix Anik.
His films have won top honours from professionals in the fields he specializes in, criminal justice and health. His two cancer documentaries, Four Women and Fighting Back, both won the Grand Prize at the International Red Cross Festival of Health and Medical Films in Varna, Bulgaria. His films on correctional themes have won numerous professional awards including the American Probation and Parole Association’s Responsibility in Media Award as well as the Justicia Award, Canada’s top prize for legal journalism presented to him by Canada’s Department of Justice and the Canadian Bar Association.
Kastner comes from a family deeply involved in the media. His late brother Peter played the lead in Francis Coppola’s first feature film, YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW. His late parents, Rose and Martin Kastner, were publishers and editors and translated several plays from German by Bertolt Brecht.
Collaboration runs in the Kastner family. Rose Kastner served as Associate Producer of three of her son John’s Emmy-winning documentaries. His sister Susan, formerly a Toronto Star columnist, served as Associate Producer on several films directed by her son, Jamie Kastner, a well known documentarian, including FREE TRADE KILLED MY MOTHER, DJANGOMANIA, KIKE LIKE ME, RECESSIONIZE, and THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION. His other sister, Kathy Kastner, co-hosted STREET COMEDY with her brother John, and was an Associate Producer on SINNER IN PARADISE, his comic documentary for CTV; as well, she operates THE PARENT CHANNEL and HEALTH TELEVISION with her husband Marvin.
John Kastner, a widower, is proudest of all of his three children, Danny, Gabriel and Kira. He lives in Toronto with his partner, Susan Teskey, also a documentary-maker, nominated for an Emmy for her film TOXIC LEGACY 9/11.