After his merchant marine service, Gulkin returned to Montréal. He worked as a social advocate and became the Québec correspondent, business manager and arts critic for the communist weekly, the Canadian Tribune.
Harry GulkinHarry Gulkin, film producer, funding agency project manager (b at Montréal 14 Nov 1927). Harry Gulkin dropped out of Baron Byng High School near the end of World II and joined the merchant marine. The idealistic teenager felt that he was languishing in stuffy classrooms while others battled fascism. Gulkin's immigrant father had been a Russian revolutionary, his mother a revolutionary and early feminist. For Gulkin, a true believing communist until his disillusionment with the party, childhood was a time when he lapped up activist principles "like mother's milk."
After his merchant marine service, Gulkin returned to Montréal. He worked as a social advocate and became the Québec correspondent, business manager and arts critic for the communist weekly, the Canadian Tribune. His world crumbled when the horrors of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin were fully exposed.
Gulkin's ideological unmooring activated his extraordinary ability to re-create himself. During the late 1950s and into the 1960s, he worked at a variety of jobs until discovering a talent for marketing that led to an executive position with a supermarket chain. Despite his success, Gulkin felt haunted by feelings of being an imposter in the corporate world.
By the 1970s, in the aftermath of a massive depression and other jobs that did not satisfy him, Gulkin decided he wanted to make movies. With no schooling beyond Grade 10, and no filmmaking experience, the burgeoning producer was driven by his love for the humanism of Italian neorealist cinema. Gulkin wanted to create films that would, in his words, "celebrate that there were values in life." At the same time, he aspired to bring Canadian fiction, long ignored by moviemakers, to the screen.
Gulkin's breakthrough picture was an adaptation of Ted Allan's story, Lies My Father Told Me (1975). Unfolding in 1920s Montréal, this movie about a boy's touching friendship with his Orthodox Jewish grandfather became a popular and critical success. Directed by Ján Kadár, Lies picked up a best foreign film Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, and an Etrog (forerunner of Canada's GENIE AWARD) for best movie of the year.
Harry Gulkin went on to produce Lionel Chetwynd's rendering of Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes (1978), Mordecai Richler's children's fantasy, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1978), and Mort Ransen's Bayo (1985), taken from a novel by Chipman Hall. Bayo was another film that focused on a relationship with a grandfather, an experience Gulkin never had growing up on Montréal's Boulevard St. Laurent.
Gulkin's next project, The Incredible Mrs. Chadwick, would have starred Shirley MacLaine as a mesmerizing conwoman. Unfortunately, financing complications, not to mention a cerebral blood clot that almost killed Gulkin, shut down the movie.
From 1983-87 Harry Gulkin was executive and artistic director of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, a multi-disciplinary arts and educational centre in Montréal. In 1987 he once again veered in a new direction when he joined the government funding agency that evolved into SODEC (Société de développement des entreprises culturelles du Québec). Gulkin embraced his role as a project manager, and for the next 20 years he championed many young filmmakers whose work enhanced Québec's reputation around the world. Prior to his retirement from SODEC he was asked to join the Nunavut Film Development Corporation's board of directors, which continues to involve him in the development of cinema in the northern Inuit territory.
Busy throughout his career with various institutes and associations, the curly-haired, impishly witty Harry Gulkin charmed many players in the movie game. In 2008, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACTRA) awarded him a special Genie Award for his achievements. Following his 2007 retirement from SODEC, the communist and corporate executive turned movie producer began planning his memoirs and musing about an acting career.
In the 2005 documentary about Harry Gulkin, Red Dawn on Main Street, he is described as "someone who's left an indelible impression on Québec cinema."