Former Hay River resident honoured for media work

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Roman Bittman, a one-time resident of Hay River who died in 2017, will be honoured with a posthumous award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Bittman, who lived in Hay River from the mid-1950s to 1960, went on to have a noted career in cinema and television. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Bittman
Roman Bittman, a one-time resident of Hay River who died in 2017, will be honoured with a posthumous award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Bittman, who lived in Hay River from the mid-1950s to 1960, went on to have a noted career in cinema and television.
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Bittman

A one-time resident of Hay River is to be posthumously honoured with a prestigious award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

Roman Bittman, who lived in Hay River as a teenager from the mid-1950s to 1960 and went to high school in the community, will be awarded the Academy Board of Directors Tribute.

“The award is presented to a Canadian individual for their extraordinary impact on the growth of the Canadian media industry,” said Louis Calabro, the academy’s vice-president of programming.

Calabro said the number of people receiving the award varies each year, noting four will be honoured this year.

“Because it’s an industry award that has to do with growth of the industry in particular, they tend to not be household names,” he said.

Bittman had a long and varied career before he passed away in 2017 in his mid-70s.

A long-time producer at CBC News and CBC’s The Nature of Things, he was also an early advisor to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, produced the awards show of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (now known as Indspire), and produced, wrote and/or directed more than 100 films.

As president of the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, he designed and implemented a film industry labour tax credit, a financial instrument that fueled

the growth of the English-Canadian film industry.

Calabro pointed to that tax credit, which originated in 1993, as one of the main accomplishments for which Bittman is being honoured.

“Not only did it bring so much more attention and work and business to the East Coast, it was also looked at as sort of a template for others who were involved in these government organizations to use when developing their own credit,” Calabro said. “So that to me is kind of the definition of helping the industry grow.”

Bittman’s widow, Marilyn Belec Bittman, is “thrilled” that he will be honoured with the award.

“It is something that actually I’m sure Roman would have been really surprised about because he was not one that searched the limelight, and he would have been absolutely thrilled, I know, and honoured that his colleagues from his career, which spanned something like 40 years, remembered him so well and nominated him for this award,” she said. “It was just great. It was really wonderful.”

She will accept the award on her late husband’s behalf on March 31 at a luncheon in Toronto.

“It certainly will be a special moment,” said Belec Bittman, a documentary filmmaker. “I am just feeling so privileged. Of course, I’ve always felt this way that I’ve been able to share his life over all these years…. It’s been a most marvellous journey sharing it with him. This is a very prestigious award, and it’s going to be a truly momentous event for me.”

The award will be presented during Canadian Screen Week, a celebration of the country’s cinema and television which will culminate with a televised awards show on March 31.

Bittman was born in Fort Vermilion, Alta., to a Metis mother and an American father.

The family moved to Hay River in the mid-1950s, and it was there that Bittman had his first experience in the electronic media.

“That’s where he joined in with seven other people there to set up a private radio station,” said Belec Bittman, noting it was later taken over by the CBC and her late husband became a part-time CBC announcer/operator as a teenager finishing high school.

“That was his first professional media job,” she said. “He talked about Hay River so, so many times over the 44 years we lived our lives together, and he had so many fabulous memories of his time there. It was a very formative time.”

After completing high school in Hay River, Bittman won a scholarship to go to Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, where he studied radio and television arts.

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