Marie Cantin: 2017 Frank Capra Achievement Award

DGA Awards Specials

December 16, 2016

UPM Marie Cantin will become the 31st recipient of the Frank Capra Achievement Award, which will be presented at the DGA Awards ceremony on February 4, 2017. The Capra Award is given to an Assistant Director or Unit Production Manager in recognition of their career and service to the industry and the DGA.

“Since the moment she was elected to her first Guild post in 2003, Marie Cantin has been a staunch advocate and proud representative of her fellow Guild members who have also benefited tremendously from her unwavering commitment to education,” said DGA President Paris Barclay upon announcing the award. “We are thrilled to recognize her service and accomplishments.”

A DGA member since 1988, Cantin’s path to a career in the film world had an unusual beginning. Born in Quebec, she grew up in East Africa speaking French, not English and moved to the US when she was seven. Her family didn’t own a television and only went to the movies on special occasions. But she found the experience of watching films alluring. “When I sat in the dark with other people to watch a film, the shared experience was very powerful. So I decided I want to do that. I moved to LA to work in the movie industry and went to the movies constantly to catch up on my film education. I was accepted to UCLA film school’s MFA program, but after a year I got a job as a production assistant on a feature and just kept working.”

Climbing the ladder to Production Manager and Line Producer on various projects, Cantin ultimately decided to concentrate on features. She got her first break on Jerry Kramer’s Modern Girls, which allowed her to start building her resume until she landed her first DGA job on Paul Bogart’s Torch Song Trilogy. “I really went after that job because it was exactly the kind of film I wanted to be associated with. It had cultural value and social relevance, plus the people involved were amazing artists.”

Although now a DGA member, it still took Cantin years to accumulate the required days to be on the Qualifications List. “I always sought to work without violating the contract, which wasn’t easy. But I understood from the start what it meant to be a union member. Although I had a lot of experience by then, it wasn’t until Dante’s Peak that I was able to finally get on the QL.”

Cantin has worked as a Unit Production Manager and Producer on a number of features including: Collateral; Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead; Big Fat Liar; Save the Last Dance; and A Night at the Roxbury. “I love the challenge of doing something I’ve never done before, so my favorite productions are the ones where I have a steep learning curve. Figuring out how to put all the pieces together and hiring the right people to execute a filmmaker’s vision – that’s what I love to do.”

Cantin’s impetus to take her Guild membership to the next level came from an AD/UPM Council West event in 2001 featuring UPMs who had become producers. “Afterward I went up to Council Chair Kim Kurumada and said, ‘You know Kim, this was really great, but there were absolutely no women on the panel.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You have to get involved in the Guild,’ so he put me on the UPM Committee. Prior to that, Martha Coolidge and Michael Apted had been very supportive and had encouraged me to get more involved at the Council level. I started coming to more meetings and getting to know who people were and it grew from there.”

Since being elected by her peers to serve as an alternate on the AD/UPM Council West in 2003, Cantin’s service includes consecutive terms on the Council in various elected positions including Secretary/Treasurer, Second Vice Chair, and First Vice Chair. She most recently completed her fourth term as Council Chair, during which time she spearheaded numerous educational initiatives. Cantin also served on the Negotiations Committee for the 2011, 2014 and 2017 negotiations cycles. But it’s her work with the Council that remains dearest to her heart.

 “We worked to create opportunities for members to mentor one another. We also wanted to establish a stronger presence for ADs and UPMs at the Guild level, so we encouraged members to become more active, especially newer members who don’t always appreciate the true value of their Guild membership. I’m very proud of the Council’s work, especially our cross-category events and a recent 3-day production planning intensive. These were designed to educate, inspire and motivate ADs and UPMs to develop their skills and their entrepreneurial spirit. We want our members to be excellent at their jobs, so we made a commitment to cultivate that.”

The theme of giving back through education is a recurrent one with Cantin. As an educator, she recently served as the Associate Dean, Thesis Production & Post Production at the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles, where she was also a member of the producing faculty and mentored more than 185 graduate thesis projects that won numerous distinctions including an Oscar nomination, DGA Student Film Awards, Student Academy Awards and College Television Awards. Cantin has taught and lectured at UCLA Extension, UC Santa Cruz, California State University Los Angeles, San Diego State University, and Western Carolina University; she has also led workshops for the Finnish Film Foundation in Helsinki, the Maine Film Workshops, and the Association of Film Commissioners International. “The concept of mentoring and teaching has always been important to me. My father was a university professor and my mother was a teacher, so I’m following in their footsteps.”

Education is the backbone that inspires her advice to fellow members. “DGA membership has many benefits, but it also has responsibilities. All members should seek help, support, and guidance from fellow members and from the Guild itself. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. We at the Council level have fostered inclusivity, but individual members have to get themselves up to speed on what the DGA can offer. Show up whenever you can. Come to a Council meeting. Come to an event. Until you experience what the National Board, the various Councils, and the Diversity Committees do on a day-to-day basis, you don’t fully appreciate the commitment of our Guild’s leadership. These people are members just like you. When you start to put a face on it, the DGA is a lot more than a just a building or a logo.”

And while she has always been goal oriented, it would appear that joining the ranks of Capra Award recipients wasn’t exactly on Cantin’s radar when she stepped up to the plate in her Guild involvement back in 2001. Upon hearing that she would be so honored, she was nearly speechless. “Getting this award is stunning. I think I had heart palpitations for a week. Past Capra recipients are a hard act to follow, so to be recognized by the DGA and by my peers in this way is both humbling and glorious.”

Marie Cantin portrait by Howard Wise


Past recipients of the DGA Frank Capra Achievement Award:

  • Mary Rae Thewlis (2016)
  • Phillip Goldfarb (2015)
  • Lee Blaine (2014)
  • Susan Zwerman (2013)
  • Katy E. Garretson (2012)
  • Cleve Landsberg (2010)
  • Kim Kurumada (2009)
  • Liz Ryan (2008)
  • Jerry H. Ziesmer (2006)
  • Herb Adelman (2005)
  • Stephen Glanzrock (2004)
  • Yudi Bennett (2003)
  • Burt Bluestein (2002)
  • Cheryl R. Downey (2000)
  • Tom Joyner (1999)
  • Bob Jeffords (1998)
  • Peter A. Runfolo (1994)
  • Willard H. Sheldon (1993)
  • Howard W. Koch (1991)
  • Stanley Ackerman (1990)
  • Alex Hapsas (1988)
  • Henry E. “Bud” Brill (1987)
  • Jane Schimel (1985)
  • Abby Singer (1985)
  • William Beaudine Jr. (1983)
  • William C. Gerrity (1983)
  • Wallace Worsley (1982)
  • David Golden (1982)
  • Francisco “Chico” Day (1981)
  • Emmett Emerson (1980)