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Director Ivan Reitman remembered as comedy heavyweight, champion of Canadian film

Sadaf Ahsan and Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Published Monday, February 14, 2022 12:29PM EST

Last Updated Monday, February 14, 2022 7:21PM EST

Ivan Reitman’s body of work, which ranged from frathouse antics in “Animal House” to the supernatural laughs of “Ghostbusters,” reshaped big screen comedy with a distinctly Canadian inflection, say colleagues and contemporaries.

The Toronto-raised filmmaker and producer’s impact on Canadian entertainment lives on through his philanthropy and the family dynasty he helmed, they say, as well as his lasting influence on the sense of humor of a generation.

Reitman died peacefully in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Montecito, Calif., his family told The Associated Press. He was 75.

News of his death sparked an outpouring of tributes on Monday, including from his son, director Jason Reitman, who mourned the loss of his “hero.”

“All I want is the chance to tell my father one more story,” tweeted the younger Reitman, who inherited his father’s supernatural comedy franchise as the director of 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”

“He came from a family of (Holocaust) survivors and turned his legacy into laughter…. Enjoy his movies and remember his storytelling gifts. Nothing would make him happier.”

Born in Slovakia, the elder Reitman and his family came to Canada as refugees in 1950 when he was four. He studied at Hamilton’s McMaster University, where he started directing several short films before moving to Los Angeles.

A director and producer of screen and stage, Reitman first made his mark on the big screen as a producer of two films by Canadian horror master David Cronenberg, 1975’s “Shivers” and 1977’s “Rabid.”

But Reitman’s impact was most pronounced in producing Hollywood comedy classics.

He rose to prominence producing 1978’s “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and then directing a string of other comedies, including “Meatballs,” “Stripes,” the first two “Ghostbusters” films, and “Kindergarten Cop.”

Elan Mastai vividly recalls watching “Ghostbusters” for the first time in a Vancouver theater in 1984 – and then seeing it again every weekend after that for a total of 14 viewings on the big screen that summer.

The “This Is Us” screenwriter and producer said he’s seen the film many more times in decades since, and to this day, he marvels at how the jokes become funnier with each rewatch.

“He has what we think of today as a very classic directorial style, but that’s because his movies set the template for what we think of as a successful and effective comedy,” said Mastai.

He credited Reitman with mainstreaming a Canadian style of comedy that emphasizes compassion over cruelty while maintaining a “sardonic nonchalance in the face of absurdity.”

“He’s one of those key figures that gave Canadians confidence in the global appeal of our comic sensibility,” said Mastai, adding that Reitman helped carve a path for Canadian creatives who wanted to maintain their connections to their home country while striving for Hollywood success.

Canadian actor and writer Jack Blum, who starred as Spaz in the summer camp comedy “Meatballs,” remembered Reitman as a consummate collaborator who gave his actors free rein to find the best laugh.

“He was very, very loose – terrific sense of comedy. He gave us a lot of freedom. We would develop the script together,” said Blum, now the executive director of Reel Canada.

“Ivan’s real comfort and ability to let people shine, do what they wanted to do and have fun doing it… is a real warm and nostalgic feeling. And that was also because we were all having the time of our lives, and he filmed it.”

Canadian actor-comedian Dan Aykroyd, one of the original “Ghostbusters,” called Reitman a “friend, collaborator, champion and one of the last great creative talents of the big screen era.”

“Now on Thursdays who am I gonna call?” Aykroyd said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

Kumail Nanjiani, Mindy Kaling, Rainn Wilson, Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and Ron Howard were among the celebrities who paid their respects on social media, many citing Reitman as a formative influence on their own comedic stylings.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who worked with Reitman on “Kindergarten Cop,” “Twins” and “Junior,” said the director helped him escape being pigeonholed as an action hero by seeing the comedic potential behind his brawny physique.

“I knew I could make it in comedy, but I needed someone else to know it to make it a reality,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement on social media.

“That’s why Ivan was a great director and friend: he could see something in you that other people didn’t, and he could help you show the rest of the world.”

Toronto International Film Festival CEO Cameron Bailey remembered Reitman as a Canadian legend whose brand of humor transcended borders and the bounds of what was considered good taste at the time.

“(His) was a particular brand of comedy, very anarchic, kind of wild, unruly, but it was exactly what that generation wanted,” Bailey said in an interview. “A lot of the movies that we see now and (the) style of comedy coming out of Hollywood can be traced back to Ivan Reitman.”

Bailey also touted Reitman as a champion of Canadian cinema, noting that he contributed the land where the TIFF Bell Lightbox sits.

“He understood what we were trying to do, to show movies beyond the commercial mainstream,” said Bailey.

Reitman was married to Quebec actress Genevieve Robert, with whom he had three children – Jason, Catherine and Caroline.

Jason Reitman honed his own cinematic blend of comedy and drama with award darlings including 2007’s “Juno” and 2009’s “Up in the Air,” which he produced with his father. His other directing credits include "Young Adult," "Tully" and "The Front Runner."

His younger sister, Catherine Reitman, is an actress, comedian, producer, writer and director. She is the creator and star of CBC’s parenting comedy “Workin' Moms,” which debuted in 2017 and has been nominated for several Canadian Screen Awards and an International Emmy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2022.

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