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Culture

Award-Winning Canadian Director Charles Officer Has Died

The celebrated Toronto filmmaker and director of K’naan’s “Strugglin'” video died after an illness.

Charles Officer

Charles Officer

Petr Novák, Wikipedia

Canadian filmmaker Charles Officer, known for his work on CBC show The Porter and features like Akilla's Escape, died on Dec. 1 after an illness. He was 48. The director and writer was celebrated for his work in a range of forms, including scripted television, documentary, and even an early music video for Somali-Canadian artist K'naan. He directed four out of eight episodes of the acclaimed series The Porter, which tells the story of railway workers in the 1920s who formed North America’s first Black union. The Porter won ten Canadian Screen Awards this year, with Officer winning Best Direction.

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Officer grew up in the Don Valley neighbourhood of Toronto’s east end. He played professional hockey, studied graphic design and worked as a stage actor before becoming a filmmaker. One of his earlier directorial works was a music video for “Strugglin’” by K’naan, off of the rapper and songwriter's 2005 album The Dusty Foot Philosopher. The video follows K’naan and a burnt orange van as they move through local haunts — barbershops, corner stores, card games — and features close-ups on the faces of neighbours and friends, adding up to a moving portrait of a community.

Officer’s poetic 2008 debut feature Nurse.Fighter.Boy was nominated for ten Genie Awards. He followed that breakout with projects like 2010’s The Mighty Jerome, a documentary about track and field star Harry Jerome; 2016’s Unarmed Verses, which highlighted the demolition of Toronto’s Villaways housing project as well as spotlighting young MCs and slam poets; and 2020 crime thriller Akilla’s Escape, starring musician Saul Williams.

“For Charles, it was about telling stories that matter, whether that was in a doc, feature or series – it was about finding the characters and lifting up the voices that so often go unheard,” Officer’s producing partner Jake Yanowski tells The Globe and Mail.

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Canadian artists and cultural organizations are remembering Officer and highlighting his artistic legacy.


Officer's Unarmed Verses is available to watch via the National Film Board.

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