It is with sadness that we learn of the passing of Father John Matheson, SJ, one of the founders of the Film Program at the University of Regina. John died on the morning of October 19, 2023, at the age of 93.
Born in New York in 1930, John moved to Canada in 1937, and entered the Jesuit order at the age of 21. He showed a particular interest in studying the fine arts, and was directing cine-clubs in Toronto in the early fifties along with Marshall McLuhan. He co-directed “Canadian Religious Art Today,” a series of national exhibits sponsored by the Canada Council from 1962 to 1966.
After completing MA degrees in English Literature and Education, he moved to Regina, and lectured in both Shakespeare and film at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina campus, from 1967 to 1969, with his colleague Terry Marner. The film course offerings proved so popular that a broader range of courses was introduced in 1970, and noted German filmmaker Jean Oser was invited to join the Faculty. Meanwhile, Fr. John left Regina to study film in California at UCLA, taking classes from filmmaker Jerry Lewis, who published his textbook “The Total FilmMaker” in 1971. While serving as a pastor in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, John initiated a community program in film and video inspired by the NFB’s “Challenge for Change” project.
John returned to Canada in 1973 and spent the next four years researching community access media and Third World Cinema. This led to the creation and delivery, with Terry Marner, of international Group Media Projects in which workshop participants were trained in the production, distribution and broadcasting of television programs about local issues in nations such as the Dominican Republic (1978) and Kenya (1982). In 1977, John contributed to the development of a curriculum for a BFA in Film and Video, and was initially responsible for half of the teaching load in the early years of the Film Programme, at least until it was restructured as a Department in 1983.
Father John will be remembered fondly as a kind and generous teacher, one who was very creative with his course offerings, and happily shared the results of his research by use of the Xerox machine. His wit was much appreciated, such as his observation that reflexivity in film usually involves mirrors. May he rest in peace.