John Zaritsky – Director, Writer

John Zaritsky is an Academy Award winning filmmaker with a reputation for taking on the most impossible of topics and characters and turning them into compelling and entertaining stories.  John has won more than 40 awards for his documentary films.  Some of his major honors include an Academy Award® in 1982 for his documentary “Just Another Missing Kid”, a Cable Ace Award for “Rapists: Can They be Stopped”, a Golden Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for “My Husband is Going to Kill Me”, a Robert F. Kennedy Foundation Award for “Born in Africa”, and an Alfred Dupont Award from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in 1994 for “Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo”.

John’s films have been broadcast in 35 countries and screened at more than 40 film festivals around the world, including Sundance, Toronto, Vancouver, the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, Hot Docs and South by Southwest. Zaritsky’s films have won awards at the New York Film Festival, the American Film Festival, Hot Docs, Vancouver Film Festival Banff Television Festival, Houston International Film Festival, Columbus Ohio Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival and the Sedona Film Festival.  Three films, “Broken Promises”, “Born in Africa”, and “Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo” were nominated for Emmy Awards.  In addition, Zaritsky has won seven Geminis, Canada’s national television award, and been nominated 15 times.  In 1995-96, he was an artist-in-residence at the graduate school of journalism, University of California at Berkeley. From 2002 to 2006, Zaritsky taught documentary film at the University of British Columbia as an adjunct professor. In 2011, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Whistler Film Festival.

Prior to entering the film business, Zaritsky worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years and received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to study at the Washington Journalism Center for six months. He won a National Newspaper Award in 1972 for his investigative reporting for The Globe and Mail.



Do You Really Want To Know? is the agonizing question that people at risk for Huntington’s disease face. If they get tested and have the gene, it’s a genetic death sentence with no cure, no treatment and when they die, many will experience symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and psychophrenia, all at the same time. Sadly, people with the Huntington gene also have a 50 per cent chance of passing it onto their children. The film ws televised in Canada in November 2012 and so far has been screened at eight festivals and won four awards at the Yorkton, Columbus Ohio, and Okanagan film festivals.

Leave Them Laughing is a real life musical comedy starring Carla Zilbersmith, a Berkeley California comedienne, singer and songwriter who is dying of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The documentary chronicles Carla’s debilitating illness while she vows to leave audiences laughing with her jokes and quips about death and dying. World premiere was at the Hot Docs film festival 2010 and has won ten awards at 15 other festivals.

The Wild Horse Redemption takes you inside a prison program in southern Colorado where inmates are taught by a horse whisperer to break and train wild Mustangs. In doing so the inmates learn important life lessons such as patience, anger management, and work discipline. Broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Canada and The Sundance Channel and Animal Planet in the United States in 2009.

The Suicide Tourist chronicles the last four days in the life of a 59-year-old American who travels to Zurich Switzerland with his wife where he receives assisted suicide.The documentary also examines the case of an elderly Canadian couple who want to get the permission of Swiss authorities to die together in each other’s arms. Broadcast on CTV in 2008, on Sky Reality in Great Britain in 2009, and in the United States on PBS Frontline in March 2010.

College Days College Nights is a six-hour series following the lives of fifteen university students through one year of school, as they search for knowledge, love, sex, and a path to the future. Produced for The Documentary Channel and CBC Television.

Men Don’t Cry: Prostate Cancer Stories profiles three men diagnosed with prostate cancer, and follows their journey through treatment. A growing epidemic, prostate cancer is a disease that can make men incontinent and impotent, and is killing greater numbers every year. One of the film’s subjects is  the late Bob Hunter, a co-founder of Greenpeace, whose cancer was diagnosed too late to be treated effectively while the filmmaker also appears when he is diagnosed with prostrate cancer. First broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

No Kidding: The Search for the World’s Funniest Joke follows British psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman’s year-long scientific search to find the world’s funniest joke. Wiseman created an internet website that collected data on how different sexes, nationalities, and age groups react to humour. John Zaritsky took the joke doctor on a round-the-world field trip to test his results, and found wacky characters everywhere with jokes to tell – some good, some awful, all entertaining. No Kidding was broadcast on CBC Television’s Witness series.

Ski Bums is an off beat and entertaining look at a youth subculture filled with colorful characters like Johnny Thrash, Punchy, and Stray Doggy who provide an audience with some inside tips on how to survive on very little in a jet set destination like Whistler B.C. The film explores the backgrounds of ski bums and the reasons they sacrifice everything in the pursuit of danger and adventures in the mountains. Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and broadcast on The Documentary Channel.

Extraordinary People is a sequel to “Broken Promises”, which ten years ago profiled some young Canadian thalidomide victims.  In Extraordinary People, four thalidomiders go through the normal ups and downs of a transition from young adulthood into middle-aged citizens, but in this case they also cope everyday with some severe physical handicaps. First broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Little Criminals focused on a six-year-old California boy who almost beat a 2-month-old boy to death with a stick.  The boy was the center of a controversy about whether he should be tried as an adult criminal.  As an intellectual backdrop, the film also examined a 25-year-old case in which two brothers, seven and 10, kidnapped a two-year-old boy from a San Francisco park and then beat him to death before hanging their victim on a cross.  One of the brothers is interviewed about his role in the crucifix murder. First broadcast on PBS’s Frontline series.

Murder on Abortion Row—When two Catholic youngsters met over a reception counter at a women’s health clinic near Boston, it set off an explosion of violence that would leave two dead and seven injured.  The film traces the lives of those youngsters leading up to that moment, one, a beautiful receptionist, daughter of an ex-nun and brother, the other, her killer, an ex-altar boy and nephew of Catholic priests.  In an exclusive interview, the Cardinal of Boston explains why he decided to take an unprecedented step in the wake of the killings. First broadcast on PBS’s Frontline series.

Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo—During the siege of Sarajevo, a young couple was shot down by snipers on a bridge while trying to escape the city.  He was a Serb, she a Muslim, and their death attracted the attention of the world press as a tragic symbol of the Bosnian War.  The film tells the love story of the couple, as they and their families stay together in the midst of a war that bitterly divides neighbours and close friends.  First broadcast in PBS’s Frontline series.

Choosing Death was an examination of euthanasia as performed by doctors in Holland.  The film takes an audience down, what critics view as the slippery slope of euthanasia, starting with the most prevalent cases, terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients before looking at a request from an AIDS patient in the early stages of his disease, to a brilliant psychiatrist losing his mind to the husband of a comatose patient and finally to the parents of a severely deformed baby.  First broadcast on PBS, as a Health Quarterly Frontline special.

My Doctor, My Lover, focused on a Denver woman who was sexually abused by her psychiatrist.  Although the doctor admitted being intimate with his patient, his attorney claimed that the patient’s psychiatric condition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, resulted from the treatment she received from a subsequent psychiatrist, who happened to be a feminist and herself a victim of sexual abuse by a therapist.  How the system from the courts to the state licensing body to the American Psychiatric Association dealt with this controversial case surprised and shocked many people.  First broadcast on PBS’s Frontline series.

Born in Africa chronicled the last weeks in the life of Philly Lutaaya, a charismatic Ugandan musician dying of AIDS.  Lutaaya used his last days to tour his country to alert his people about the dangers of AIDS and to sing a song of hope and redemption he had composed.  In doing so, Lutaaya became the first prominent African to publicly declare he had AIDS and his life and death was a powerful message to millions of sufferers on his continent.  First broadcast as a PBS Health Quarterly—Frontline Special.

Broken Promises—In the early 60s, thousands of babies were born around the world with severe birth defects such as shortened and deformed limbs.  Their defects were caused by thalidomide, a drug their mothers had been prescribed during pregnancy for morning sickness.  Most doctors predicted that few babies would survive and those that did would require institutional care for life.  But this film profiled three extraordinary thalidomiders who had defeated the odds and were living full and independent lives in their mid-twenties.  Broken Promises also investigates the failure of the Canadian government to live up to a commitment made 25 years ago to do everything it could to help the thalidomide victims and their families.  First broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  Also broadcast on PBS’s Frontline and on the BBC series, Everyman.

My Husband is Going to Kill Me is what a terrified Denver woman told police and judges her violent spouse would do.  But even though he kidnapped and held her hostage at gunpoint for six hours, he was set loose and a week later shot her down in front of their two young children.  How the system failed to protect a woman from a man who previously had shot a neighbour to death during a front porch confrontation was the focus of this film.  First broadcast on PBS’s Frontline.

The Real Stuff is an entertaining and thrilling look at Canada’s aerobatic flying team, the Snowbirds.  Featuring breathtaking photography and the music of David Foster, the daredevil pilots reveal what the real stuff is all about.  First broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Rapists: Can They Be Stopped? Looked at controversial treatment program for sex offenders at Oregon State Hospital.  Four rapists talk about their lives and crimes while undergoing treatment that includes electroshock, chemical castration and confrontations with victims.  First broadcast on HBO’s Undercover America series.

Tears Are Not Enough chronicles the day top Canadian musical stars came together to record a song for Ethiopian famine victims.  Featuring Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, and Cory Hart, the film was a behind-the-scenes at a recording session in which even the biggest stars left their egos at the studio door.  The film was released theatrically in Canada and Los Angeles and first broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

I’ll Get There Somehow profiles people with different forms of arthritis and lupus, from a young girl with juvenile arthritis to an elderly lady coping with the devastating effects of osteoarthritis.  First broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Boy Next Door was the only fictional film produced by John Zaritsky.  It was a drama about a single mother trying to cope with an absent, sometimes violent teenage son.  First broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s For the Record series.

Bjorn Borg chronicled the last days of a young tennis champion suffering from burnout and attempting a comeback.  First broadcast on Global Television.

Just Another Missing Kid told the story of a rich and powerful Ottawa family trying to find their teenage son who had gone missing while on his way to summer school.  But everywhere they went, police refused to help and finally a private detective was hired to track down the two killers of the teenage boy.  First broadcast on the CBC’s Fifth Estate. Won an Academy Award and a number of other awards.

Caring for Chrysler examines the controversy about whether governments on both sides of the border should be asked to save America’s third largest automaker from bankruptcy.  First broadcast on CBC’s Fifth Estate.

Charity Begins at Home was an investigative report into foreign aid which demonstrated that the chief beneficiaries were not the Third World poor but inefficient, uncompetitive industries at home.  First broadcast on CBC’s Fifth Estate.

The Loser’s Game was an investigative report into phony promotions and shady practices on the Vancouver Stock Exchange.  Regarded by many as the Wild West, its penny stocks are the least regulated of any exchange in North America.  First broadcast on CBC’s Fifth Estate.