London fans toast Haggis

KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:33 AM ET

Of all the questions Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis was asked yesterday, perhaps the best came from his Grade 3 principal, Theresa Wharton.

"Do you lose your hair after you win an Oscar?"

To Wharton, Haggis will always be a "darling little boy with nice hair" who attended St. Thomas More when she was principal.

Now living in Newmarket, Wharton made the trip to Catholic Central high school to be a part of Paul Haggis Day in London and meet her former pupil 45 years later. He was surprised to see her.

Throughout the day, Haggis told students at CCH, Fanshawe College and Beal secondary school -- all schools he had attended -- that he received bad grades.

"You were not a poor student," Wharton told Haggis, who gave her a big hug.

"It was after your time that I became a problem," Haggis joked.

Self-deprecating, gracious and witty, Haggis had the charm to impress everyone he met yesterday.

"He was just wonderful. It's just so inspirational for all of the students," said fourth-year Fanshawe broadcast journalism student Kim Taal, who had a 10-minute Q & A with Haggis at the start of the day, broadcast around the school. "I was very honoured to be able to interview him."

Haggis studied cinematography at Fanshawe in 1969 and 1970, but didn't graduate.

Joseph Dunlop-Addley, who was in the same program as Haggis during that time and who now teaches filmmaking at the college, said Haggis was a born storyteller."He was a person with the ideas. His strength has always been that he has a phenomenal imagination," he said.

Haggis will get an honorary diploma from Fanshawe in November 2007 and promised Dunlop-Addley he will be at the graduation ceremony to receive it.

On the lapel of his black suit, Haggis wore a Fanshawe College pin.

Haggis seemed tired but didn't refuse one autograph or turn away from anyone who wanted to talk.

He even accepted a video from a woman from Sarnia who travelled to London on the chance she might meet Haggis and give him a copy of a 15-minute film on autism.

"He says he looks forward to watching it," said Susan Fentie, who has two children with autism.

The day was for the students at the three schools he attended, as much as it was for Haggis.

Johnathon Vandenbroek, a Grade 11 student at Beal, approached Haggis and simply gave him a hug without saying anything.

"He came here. It's a wonderful, beautiful thing," Vandenbroek said.

But a group of students was told to stay back from the star director and screenwriter as he arrived at Beal.

"We're not allowed to touch him," said Nico Williams.

"I'm upset," added Tasha Edwards, who yelled that she loved his movies as he entered the school."

"Thank you," Haggis called back.

Haggis seemed to enjoy his day and the efforts people made to honour him.

Regina Mundi student Paulina Magier sang Dare to Dream for Haggis during his stop at CCH and he wiped his eye during the song.

"You brought me to tears," Haggis told her afterward.


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