Industry Mourns Pioneering Director Catherine Lefebvre
Catherine Lefebvre
Her legacy spans art and business, paving the way for women filmmakers and execs
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Catherine Lefebvre, a trailblazing woman director who left an indelible impression on the art and business of commercialmaking, passed away on Saturday, August 21, in Los Angeles at the age of 80. 

Executive producer and industry entrepreneur Don Block, a longtime friend and professional colleague of Lefebvre--who was partnered with her in the venerable production company Gibson Lefebvre Gartner (GLG)--noted that she gained prominence during a time when you could count the number of prominent female directors on one hand, if that. Lefebvre paved the way for women filmmakers, first establishing herself in Europe, most notably with an endearing Waterman Pen commercial which received plaudits worldwide, including at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.  The spot, which shows a girl charming an elementary school classmate in order to get his Waterman pen, became an international favorite in the 1980s, including gaining exposure on the popular foreign commercials segment on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Lefebvre then made her mark stateside, gaining traction in the American ad market at production house N. Lee Lacy/Associates before launching her own shop, Catherine Lefebvre & Associates, as a satellite of EUE Screen Gems. She then went on to team with Block, directors Brian Gibson and James Gartner on the launch of GLG in 1987.

Known for her impeccable taste, visual sensibilities and penchant for storytelling, Lefebvre became renowned in fashion and beauty advertising--so much so, recollected Block, that creative teams at New York agencies would book her for a campaign and then she, her stylist and producer would fly in from France on The Concorde to meet them in person at the JFK Airport international lounge/club to discuss the project in detail, and she would be back in Paris in time for a late supper. But not content with being an in-demand director in the fashion and beauty field, she diversified into other varied genres and product categories in the U.S. and internationally, including one that had been up until then strictly the province of men--automotive advertising. Block recalled a massive Cadillac campaign she directed which GLG produced in France. “She eventually got in the camera car and started shooting. She was such a pioneer, fearless, a lioness.” 

Lefebvre also brought a new dimension to car advertising that departed from the sheet metal norm. In one U.S. campaign, for example, she put an automobile’s exterior in the proverbial backseat, instead prioritizing the vehicle’s interior, giving a sense of the comfort and feeling of control one could experience as a driver and/or passenger.

Block--who is now a partner/co-founder/EP of production houses GARTNER and The Devil You Know--enjoyed a 35-year friendship with Lefebvre. They last saw each other just days before her passing as she, her husband and Block had dinner together. Block said she was as engaging, funny, witty and dynamic as ever, still “sharp as a tack.” Her passing was sudden but her positive impact will be everlasting. Some in this generation may not know of her but the industry today is better for the doors she opened for talented women filmmakers.

Block added that Lefebvre also opened up opportunities for women on the business side of the industry. Her business acumen was evident in how she ran Catherine Lefebvre & Associates and then as a partner in GLG. “She was a real force in running company operations, management, liaisoning with talent and finding talent,” related Block who credited Lefebvre with spearheading the opening of GLG’s office in Mexico City and connecting with world-class talent in that market. 

Block remembered Lefebvre as “relentless, intelligent, curious and hungry for new challenges all the time.” He noted that typically the key people around her were women, who in turn made a positive impact on the industry, bringing more female representation into the business. Lefebvre didn’t regard herself as a champion of that cause or as Block said, “She didn’t wear it on her sleeve. She just did it.” He described Lefebvre as a shining light as a friend, an artist and business executive.

Lefebvre is survived by her husband, Anthony Russell, her daughter Carine Lefebvre--who’s a noted documentary filmmaker in her own right--five grandchildren and one great grandchild.


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