Pioneering documentary filmmaker Roger McTair has died

By Neil Armstrong

Roger McTair, 80, a Trinidadian Canadian writer, pioneering documentary filmmaker, and poet, passed away on April 8 after a long fight with Parkinson’s and other overlapping issues. Plans are being made to celebrate his life and legacy in early May at a theatre in the west end of Toronto.

In an email to friends and family, his son, Ian Kamau Prieto-McTair, an artist, writer, and designer, said alongside his aunt Dion, and mother Claire, they have all been navigating the end-of-life process.


Roger McTair

 “We appreciate the condolences, cards, stories, and support we’ve received over the last very difficult week. We will be celebrating him and his legacy on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at The Theatre Centre in Toronto so please mark your calendars if you wish to attend.”

McTair, whose birthname was Conrad Oliver McTair Jr., was born on October 7, 1943, in Trinidad & Tobago, “the eldest of four and the only boy,” writes son, Ian Kamau in the foreword of his father’s book, My Trouble With Books & Other Works of Short Fiction, which was published in 2018 and launched on May 25 that year at The Theatre Centre. He, his aunt and mother were instrumental in the book becoming a reality.

In it, Ian Kamau explains the reason his father began referring to himself as Roger McTair at the age of twelve — a name inspired by the maiden name of his late mother and her brother. Describing the book as his father’s book, he said it “is the actualization of a life’s ambition” and “comes from the life and mind of one of my greatest teachers, someone I am definitely proud of.”

Roger McTair

Roger McTair’s stories and poems have been published in the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States. A Caribbean Quarterly, June-September, 1977, published his poem, Ganja Lady, and described him then as “a 33-year-old Caribbean writer” who “has had poems published in VOICES, BIM, SAVACOU, TAPIA and other journals in Canada.” His poems also appear in Voiceprint, an anthology of oral and related poetry from the Caribbean selected and edited by Stewart Brown, Mervyn Morris and Gordon Rohlehr.

McTair migrated to Canada in 1970 and was an alumnus of Ryerson University’s (now Toronto Metropolitan University) Film and Photography program. He taught media writing at Seneca College at York University in Toronto for 18 years until he retired in 2014. He always had a keen critical interest in literature, theatre, and philosophy.

Working alongside his then wife, Claire Prieto, they created films in the 1970s, starting as students at Ryerson University, and were among the pioneering Black filmmakers in Canada. The National Film Board of Canada describes him as a writer and filmmaker “whose body of work has been fundamental to the development of Black Canadian arts and culture.”

It notes that McTair is credited as director of Some Black Women (1975), “now considered the first film ever made by a Black Canadian about the perspectives of the Black community in Canada. It was produced by another Black-Canadian pioneer filmmaker, Claire Prieto (also born in Trinidad and Tobago) with whom McTair collaborated on two more films: Different Timbres (1980) and Home to Buxton (1987, co-directed by Prieto).”

The NFB also noted that McTair directed Children Are Not the Problem: An Anti-Racist Childcare Strategies Film (1991) and Jennifer Hodge: The Glory and the Pain (1992), as well as two NFB films, Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (1983) and Journey to Justice (2000), which focus on the experiences and struggles of Black Canadians and other marginalized groups in Canada.

McTair was active in various capacities in the community and in 1993, received an Award of Merit from the City of Toronto for his contribution to the life of the city. A scholarship was established in his name, in 2017, at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts to support an aspiring Black filmmaker.

Ian Kamau is asking anyone who has photos of his father or with his father to share them with him at <>;