Roman Bittman, who was raised in poverty in Hay River but went on to find success as a noted television and movie producer, has passed away.
Bittman, who was in his mid-70s, died on Nov. 7.
Among his many accomplishments, he worked at CBC news, was a producer at The Nature of Things science television program on CBC, worked for the National Film Board, and was responsible for about 100 films, many of them documentaries.
Bittman was also an early advisor to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
One of his sisters, Delores Jones of Calgary, said Hay River played an important role in Bittman discovering his career path when the family moved to the community in the 1950s from their farm in northern Alberta.
She said her brother got a part-time job to make pennies at a community radio station located in a shack.
“He would go there on Saturdays and Sundays and he would read the news on the radio and people could dial it in,” she recalled. “And he also read the comic strips. That’s how he made his little bit of money.”
Jones believes that experience had a big influence on her brother.
“I think that was the catalyst that put him onto what he took obviously, radio and television arts, and that came specifically from Hay River,” she said.
After completing high school in Hay River, where he lived for five or six years, Bittman won a scholarship to go to Ryerson University in Toronto, and studied radio and television arts.
Asked how he had won a scholarship from Ryerson University, she simply replied, “Roman was brilliant. He was an absolutely brilliant man.”
Bittman was born in Fort Vermilion, Alta., to a Metis mother and an American father of German descent.
“He was quite proud of his Metis heritage,” Jones said of her brother.
His father was a trapper and the family owned a small farm.
Jones said the family moved to Hay River, while still keeping their farm, because her father thought he could get more work as a handyman.
“It was very, very poverty stricken times and Roman just had the resolve and he had the brains and the determination,” she said, noting that he took the big step from Hay River to university in Toronto even though he had never travelled that far before.
After university, Bittman began a career as a writer, director and producer in television and films.
In one of his roles – as president of the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation – he created Canada’s first film industry labour tax credit, which has since been copied across the country to successfully stimulate the Canadian film industry.
At the time of his death, he was working in the renewable energy sector.
Jones noted her brother was still very vibrant and still working even though he was ill with cancer for the last couple of years.
Despite his success, Jones noted her brother never, ever forgot where he came from and the struggles he faced growing up.
“All of the hardships were challenges to overcome and take something from and make his life better,” she said.
While noting that younger people in Hay River don’t know of her brother, Jones said some older people in the community remember him.
“It really is special to me to know that they remember him, because he never forgot, either,” she said.
At the time of his death, Bittman was residing in Toronto.