Brian Hendricks’ boundless enthusiasm inspired thousands of students

Brian Hendricks would have been thrilled to know he’d be hanging out with Robin Williams in the afterlife, says the wife of the late Victoria filmmaker, writer and University of Victoria film studies instructor.

“He would have loved that he was on the flipside of Robin Williams. Brian’s there to guide him now,” said Sandy Jameson Hendricks with a laugh. Her husband died at age 57 Sunday after an eight-year battle with cancer, only to be “upstaged” by Williams when the Oscar-winning actor died a day later.

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“Brian was a deeply spiritual man,” said the longtime John’s Place staffer who met her husband of 33 years when they both worked at Noos Pizza.

Hendricks isn’t just survived by her and her sons, Dylan and Dallas, and their families, she said: “He’s survived by 12,000 students.”

Born in Huntsville, Ont., and raised in Fort St. John, Alta., Hendricks studied at Bryn Athyn College in Pennsylvania and the University of Waterloo before enrolling in UVic’s writing program. After graduating in 1979, he worked as a screenwriter, script consultant, editor, film critic and more recently senior editor of the literary magazine Hobo.

He was best known as a sessional film studies instructor from 1992 until 2011 with UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts in its writing and German and Slavic studies departments.

Hundreds of former students have posted notes of appreciation online for the beloved curly-haired redhead whose passion for philosophy and cinema was matched by his enthusiasm for golf, hockey, photography, skiing, barroom banter and Sophie, his cherished shih-tzu.

Former student Brick Blair bade Hendricks a particularly appropriate farewell with The Beauty of Certainty, an online documentary series about his life in the face of death.

“Brian loves the act of making a film,” said the Brooklyn-based information technology consultant who filmed his friend in Vancouver in October.

With astonishing candor, Hendricks articulates his thoughts about coming to terms with terminal cancer and his own mortality by referencing films like Wings of Desire and Eyes Wide Shut. He recalls Carl Jung’s statement about how “most people spend the first half of their lives afraid to live, and the second half of their lives afraid to die.”

It’s a beautiful and haunting black-and-white meditation as Blair captures his philosophical subject against an urban backdrop, Sophie at his side, and impulsively singing Amazing Grace.

“I once was lost but now I’m found. I was blind but now I see,” sings Hendricks, who had just lost part of his eyesight following a stroke.

Blair said it was an honour using skills he learned from Hendricks to capture his spirit.

“Brian had that rare ability to see his own life in some kind of universal context, especially when faced with mortality,” he said.

If not for Hendricks, Scott Amos said he wouldn’t have become a filmmaker.

“I have to blame and credit him for everything I do,” said Amos, recalling how Hendricks favoured learning by doing.

“He was so not your typical professor,” the Victoria filmmaker recalled. “It was ‘Here’s your cameras and equipment. Come see me in a month when you have a movie.’ ”

Fondly recalling Hendricks’ popular student screenings at Lucky Bar, Victoria filmmaker Erin Skillen described him as one-of-a-kind.

“He’s all about the journey,” she said, recalling his “follow your bliss” philosophy.

Skillen said Hendricks was “amazingly supportive,” as when he mentored her production of To Be Decided, her 16-millimetre film in which he appeared.

“Unfortunately, he hadn’t memorized his lines so we filmed him from behind,” laughed Skillen.

“He told me he had already given me an A-plus.”

Hendricks took on a new dimension when facing hundreds of students, recalled former UVic Department of Writing chair Bill Gaston.

“He grew a couple of inches when he was in front of an audience,” said Gaston, adding he was upbeat and friendly.

“We could be talking about the most arcane film, some kind of strange Danish film or cinematic technique but what he really wanted to talk about was hockey and beer and our kids,” he said.

“Just before he got sick my hips exploded so I couldn’t play oldtimers hockey and he wanted to. He used to play.”

Hendricks “always encouraged creativity as your raison d’etre,” added associate professor Maureen Bradley, noting he has a “tribe” of followers countrywide.

“He’s had a huge influence,” she said. “Anybody I know with an ounce of creativity and passion took his classes, it seems.”

His other pursuits included writing a book about the experiences of a sessional lecturer and interviewing celebrities such as Christopher Walken and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Filmmaker and musician Barry Casson said Hendricks was a brilliant writer and fun-loving collaborator when they worked on shorts and corporate videos Casson produced in the mid-1990s, including The Eternal Spring, a Twilight Zone-type half-hour period piece; and a promotional video for Langford’s Kennametal.

“We just clicked,” said Casson, who met Hendricks in a local pub. “He knew I was into film and he was into writing. We had a lot of laughs.”

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