In 1979 Fichman-Sweete Productions, the company that became Rhombus Media, was the brainchild of Niv Fichman and Barbara Willis Sweete, students from York University's film studies program. The duo's first film, the musical documentary Opus One, Number One, traced the evolution and performance of a piano piece by Beethoven, performed by 3 young musicians, including Fichman's younger brother Yuval, a piano prodigy.
For their second film, in 1980 (directed by Fichman and Sweete, and written by Sweete), they recorded the rehearsals and performance of Music for Wilderness Lake, an environmental suite composed by R. Murray Schafer. For this one, a summer intern, Larry Weinstein, another York film studies graduate, joined Fichman and Sweete. In 1982, screenwriter John Frizzell came aboard briefly, and Rhombus Media was officially incorporated. In 1988, long-time friend Sheena Macdonald, a former advertising executive and also a York graduate, joined Rhombus to run its distribution arm, Rhombus International. In 1992, Daniel Iron left Telefilm Canada to join Rhombus as its legal-affairs specialist.
Over the years, Rhombus Media evolved into a major global producer of high-end, visually elegant performing-arts programming. With multiple GEMINI and GENIE Awards, international broadcast and film-festival awards, 2 Primetime Emmys, 5 International Emmys, 5 Grammy Award nominations, an Oscar and an Oscar nomination, the Rhombus partners have produced a body of work of an extraordinarily high standard, visually challenging and made with a great deal of integrity.
All That Bach (1985), produced by Fichman and Louise Clark and directed by Weinstein, won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding classical program in the performing arts; Making Overtures (1986), a film about the Cobourg, Ont, community orchestra, directed by Weinstein and produced by Sweete, was nominated for an Oscar for best short documentary; and Yo-Yo Ma Inspired by Bach (1997), a collection of shorts based on J.S. Bach's 6 suites for solo cello, made in collaboration with the world-renowned cellist and produced by Fichman with various directors, won 10 Gemini Awards. It also won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding classical music-dance program and a Grammy nomination for long-form music video for Six Gestures, directed and written by Patricia ROZEMA.
Notable productions Rhombus Media has made for television include Concerto! (1993; winning an International Emmy Award for Weinstein for his contribution to this miniseries); The Planets (1994; 2 Geminis and a Grammy Award nomination); The Music of Kurt Weill: September Songs (1995; 5 Gemini Awards and an International Emmy); Solidarity Song: The Hanns Eisler Story (1995; it won the Louvre's Classique en Images Award as the best film on the arts over a three-year span); Great Performances: Don Giovanni Unmasked (2001; 2 Geminis and an International Emmy nomination); and the series Slings and Arrows (2003-06; 3 Geminis, including 2 for best dramatic series).
Other Gemini Award winners include Masterclass with Menuhin (1987), Ravel (1987), Music in the Midnight Sun (1988), A Moving Picture (1989), The Radical Romantic: John Weinzweig (1990), My War Years: Arnold Schoenberg (1992), Shadows and Light: Joaquin Rodrigo at 90 (1993), Sorceress: Kiri Te Kanawa (1996), The Canadian Brass: A Christmas Experiment (1997), The War Symphonies: Shostakovich against Stalin (1997), Stormy Weather: The Music of Harold Arlen (2002), The Firebird (2003) and Beethoven's Hair (2005).
In 1989, Rhombus moved into the production of features with Peter METTLER's The Top of His Head. The company had a major success with François GIRARD's daring Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (1993), which won 4 Genie Awards, including best picture and best director. A film version of the Stratford Festival production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night was produced by Fichman and Iron for PBS's Great Performances series in 1996, and released theatrically in Canada, winning 4 Genies, sweeping the actor categories. Don MCKELLAR's 1998 debut feature, Last Night, was produced by Fichman and Iron, and won the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival, 2 Genies, and best Canadian feature at Toronto International Film Festival. Francois Girard's The Red Violin, produced the same year as Last Night by Fichman, won 8 Genies, including best picture and director, and an Oscar for its musical score.
Rhombus Media's film production activities broadened to include co-productions such as Guy MADDIN's The Saddest Music in the World (2004), Don McKellar's Childstar (2005), Marc Evans's Snow Cake (2006), François Girard's Silk (2007), Fernando Meirelles's Blindness (2008) and Paul GROSS's Passchendaele (2008), winner of the best picture Genie and GOLDEN REEL AWARD in 2009.
In 1998, Fichman, Weinstein, Macdonald and Sweete were awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees by York University. The 3 original partners went their separate ways in 2007 but continue to produce with the company on a freelance basis. In 2009, Rhombus Media co-produced Weinstein's highly regarded documentary Inside Hana's Suitcase.