Dear Guelda, Part 1: A Conversation with Peter Roffman

January 12, 2018 | By

Back in May of 2016, I produced a podcast that tied the restoration of The Mask (1961), Julian Roffman’s very fun 3D shocker, to the DVD and Blu-ray editions released by KINO.

I was pretty frank about what I pegged as a split run release – each home video format contained extras not on the other, which is never a good thing when a Blu-ray is capable of storing a small cottage and a Honda hatchback within its dense data tracks – but I still praised the stunning transfer of the film’s 3D effects which were restricted to a trio of immersive trippy sequences.

Jason Pichonsky’s docu-featurette for the discs, Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask, gave a fascinating overview of Roffman’s life which included an amazing series of connections, innovations, and adventures – he was among the first filmmakers invited to join the new NFB, worked as war correspondent during WWII, and during a lengthy period in which he was blacklisted Roffman directed countless episodes of TV series (Flipper, East Side West Side), documentaries, and other projects.

He also co-founded Meridian Films, which was the first commercial facility in Canada to offer videotape production & post-services under one roof – a career step that I find truly fascinating, given the massive expense required to set up shop, buy the damn bulky gear, and seek out clients to ensure the business doesn’t just grow, but thrive.

I’m equally impressed by Roffman’s unwavering determination to keep finding ways to get to the director’s chair, be it Canada, the U.S., Italy, whatever; no matter what roadblocks fubared his efforts or meticulously arranged plans, Roffman pushed on, seemingly never discouraged to the point of giving up and switching to an unrelated career.

That’s something which perhaps keeps filmmakers sane: If you can’t make films, then maybe there’s a service, technical / theoretical /or tangential work that doesn’t ruin the dream of working in film.

That Roffman was obsessed with film is readily clear in Dear Guelda: The Death and Life of Pioneering Canadian Filmmaker Julian Roffman – an ebook edited & written by the filmmaker’s son Peter Roffman. As he points out several times in his recurring assessments of his father, there were two loves in his life that occupied his heart: wife Guelda, and movies.

The narrative within Dear Guelda is constructed from a series of letters the elder Roffman sent to his wife primarily during the 1940s and early 1950s, and as son Peter recaps several times throughout the book, Julian saw everything from a filmmaker’s eyes: noting, commentating, and figuring out how things might fit into a documentary or docu-drama hybrid. This is starkly evident in his line-by-line takes of being a war correspondent in Britain and newly liberated Belgium.

Julian Roffman championed a fusion of two genres – the truth and social commentary of the documentary, and the entertainment value of traditional genres (comedy, musical, drama, suspense, horror, sci-fi) – and tried to find ways to make it all work. As The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of Soul book co-editor Andre Loiselle states in the second section of my Mask podcast, that 3D film was part horror and part metaphor for drug addiction; the subtext isn’t really so subtle.

Roffman also fought against a system that at least in Canada, was designed to kill an indigenous industry. Yes, the NFB was a highpoint in Canadian culture, winning Oscars and international respect for creative, experimental snapshots of life or art in motion, but the Canadian government repeatedly backed away from telling Hollywood to fuck off and allow existing theatrical distributors to become the dominant, as should’ve happened decades ago.

Hollywood’s threat of holding back entertainment and putting jobs on hold seemed to scare the gov’t enough to dump protectionist schemes to build a commercial industry outside of documentaries.

When I studied film in university, the documentary was heavily accented as The Superior Form of Filmmaking in Canada; it was our Hallowed Tradition, and we were expected to follow in the footsteps of crankypants John Grierson, whom Roffman amusingly refers to as God in his letters.

Grierson set up a system and established a remarkable stable of talent in Britain and Canada that shaped perhaps cinema’s most important genre – the newly minted documentary – but as a film fan of classic commercial genres, I detested professors telling me we had to focus on the real, the socially relevant, the impactful. University stifled creative thinking because it rammed a bad ideology down class throats, so my way of rebelling was to make a thesis in which a widower hacks up the cadaver of his annoying neighbour, and after tossing baggies of the parts throughout the Scarborough Bluffs, he’s confronted by the dead man’s son who wants revenge.

Luckily I had a prof – Kathryn Ruth Hope – who in 4th year allowed us to make what we wanted. We still had to write scripts, mind characters and dialogue, and budget the thing, but any failures were ours to learn from, and if the university got an award, it’s all good.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve more than a measure of admiration for Roffman: he refused to settle for whatever gov’t or corporate levels demanded; he may have had to eat crow, but if a road was blocked, he took a side street, used a bridge, took a gable on a country trail, grabbed a canoe and navigated where there was a smaller pile of steaming bullshit. Armed with an increasingly valuable skill set, he could make anything in any genre on film and video. He may have missed the bullseye of sitting in the director’s chair of a feature film, but there’s no doubt he became an important producer.

Perhaps that’s the Canadian success story that should be added to the curriculum of students studying film: a man who kept at it, and may have had regrets but left behind some fascinating genre fusions which as case studies illustrate the complexities of making movies under the shadow of a giant to the south, and its sometimes inhospitable flatulence.



My podcast interview with Peter Roffman (see links at the end) is one of’s longest, and interpolated between themed discussions are audio excerpts from some of the films on which Julian Roffman served as producer, director, or both. Next week I’ll have reviews of The Bloody Brood (1959), Peter Falk’s first major film, and a project currently being restored by Pichonsky after floating for years in bootleg releases; Spy in Your Eye (1965), a Cold War Italian-made spy riff with Brett Halsey and Dana Andrews and released by AIP; and Sarumba (1950), the less than perfect musical shot on location in pre-Castro Cuba.

More importantly, though, I’ll also have a review of Dear Guelda, which you can buy via Amazon as a Kindle ebook:



In the podcast, I also reference two related works worth hunting down: Caelum Vatnsdal’s excellent history of Canadian Horror They Came From Within, now revised in its Second Edition:



And James Burrell’s Horrorwood North: The Extraordinary History and Art of Canada Genre Cinema, which is packed with lengthy reviews and interviews.

(At the time of this writing, this early edition of the Rue Morgue Library may be OOP, but might be available from secondary sources.)

My podcast interview with Peter Roffman is available on Google PlayiTunes, Libsyn, and YouTube.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG, INTERVIEWS, podcast

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