In more than 25 years as a filmmaker, Anne Wheeler (’67 BSc) has written, directed and produced dozens of award-winning feature films, documentaries and TV programs.
After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1967, Wheeler spent the next four years travelling, holding a number of jobs including computer programmer and high-school teacher. Her career path changed in 1971 when she, along with nine friends, founded Film West Associates, a film production company. The members knew little about making films but taught themselves. The group lasted for a few years, during which they won several awards for their productions.
Wheeler subsequently moved to the National Film Board as a producer and director. She made documentaries, often based on her own or family members’ experiences, including Great Grandmother in 1975 and A War Story in 1981. She left the NFB a few years later to work as an independent producer/director and made several movies for the CBC before making her first feature film, Loyalties, in 1987.
In 1989, Wheeler gained considerable recognition for the feature film Bye Bye Blues, which she wrote, directed and produced. Inspired by her mother’s experience as a musician in a small prairie dance band during the war years, the film was nominated for twelve Genie Awards, ultimately taking home awards for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song. The movie languished in copyright limbo for many years, but was resurrected in 2015 with a special 25th anniversary screening to a sold-out crowd in Edmonton.
In addition to Bye Bye Blues, Wheeler has directed a number of critically acclaimed feature and television films including Cowboys Don’t Cry, Angel Square, The Diviners, Better Than Chocolate, The War Between Us, The Sleep Room and Suddenly Naked. Wheeler has also directed Canadian television shows such as North of 60, Jake and the Kid and Da Vinci’s Inquest.
As a writer and director, Wheeler is regarded as a pioneer of the Canadian film industry. She was elected an officer of the Order of Canada in 1995 and has received honorary doctorates from the University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, Athabasca University, University of Winnipeg and Brock University. She received her honorary doctorate from the U of A in 1990. In 1996, Wheeler was recognized with the U of A’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2012 she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 2016, Wheeler became the first woman to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Canada.
For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.