This week the spotlight is on Mel Stuart, the documentarian and filmmaker who has recently died at the age 83.


(Image of Mel Stuart)

Mel Stuart was a celebrated figure in the television and film industry, most notably known for bringing the fantasy world of Roald Dahls’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to the big screen.

He began his career working for CBS news as one of the researchers for the 1950s documentary series The 20th Century. Later he worked with David L. Wolper after he asked Stuart to join a new west coast documentary production company that he had founded. Together they produced various documentaries including the Oscar-nominated “Four Days in November” which accounts the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Other documentaries of his include “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” (1968); and the Emmy-winning “The Making of the President 1960”; as well as subsequent explorations of the 1964 and ’68 campaigns.

Whilst his role as an acclaimed documentarian was already apparent, it was the 1971 production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that granted him celebrity in the movie making industry. He made this film upon the request of his daughter Madeline who asked her father to turn her favourite book into a movie. The 11 year old Madeline also starred in a cameo-role as a student in the classroom. This film transports the viewer into the fantasy universe of Willy Wonka’s factory and will forever be remembered as a childhood favourite.

Two years later Stuart directed the vastly different film documentary “Wattstax” (1973), which focuses on the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles in the aftermath of the 1965 riots. It contains footage of the inhabitants voicing their opinions on the riots, their music and their race.

Stuart dedicated his life to his work as a documentarian, to finding out the truth and broadcasting it to the public. However his versatility as a filmmaker shone through with the magical production of Willy Wonka which has endured the test of time and to this day remains a family classic. Although chocolate rivers and edible flowers appear at the foreground of the film, Stuart focused on the moral tale of Roald Dahl’s book and wanted to emphasise the idea that good things come to good people. In the words of Stuart himself, “I felt that it wasn’t just a children’s book but rather a complex morality tale about good kids and bad kids, good parents and bad parents.”

Stuart was a talented documentarian and a passionate storyteller and will be remembered for his astounding works within in the industry. ÉCU wanted to celebrate his life, his accomplishments and his excellence in filmmaking.

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