Richardson was born in Wyndham, New Zealand to Robert and Letitia Richardson, and grew up in Invercargill where, at age 17, he began his career in journalism at the Southland Times and the Southland Daily News. After a brief stint as a reporter in Australia, he went to India to live and work at Nilokheri, a co-operative community north of New Delhi. In 1951, he moved to Britain, where he studied writing under the Scottish poet, Edwin Muir at Newbattle Abbey College. In 1954, Richardson emigrated to Canada, first joining the Winnipeg Free Press then the Montreal Star. From 1960 to 1968 he was the latter newspaper's correspondent in London.
Upon his return to Montreal, Richardson became disenchanted with corporate media and, in 1971, embarked on a freelance career. Despite knowing nothing about film-making, he began to work for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), learning the craft under the mentorship of NFB veterans Tony Ianzelo and Colin Low. His first film, Cree Hunters of Mistassini, which he co-directed with Ianzelo, won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary. Between 1973 and 2000, he made 38 films for the NFB. He made one other film not associated with the NFB; The Children of Soong Ching Ling, produced by UNICEF and directed by Gary Bush, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film.
Politics and activism
In 1950, Richardson married Shirley Norton, a woman of Māori descent and the daughter of a trade union activist. The two were proud socialists and Richardson's entire career was devoted to social justice. Many of his NFB films were about worker rights and corporate abuse, but he was an avid supporter of Canada's aboriginal peoples, in creating understanding, and seeking justice in their struggles against degradation of their lands. In his films and books, he created "a chronicle of the assault upon the last coherent hunting culture in North America, the Cree Indians of Quebec, and their vast primeval homelands". He also did prescient work on anti-globalization in the 1987 award-winning NFB documentary Super-Companies, which explored the role of multinational corporations such as Alcan. When his 1996 article Corporations: How Do We Curb Their Obscene Power? was rejected by a progressive periodical, he posted it to the Internet, to worldwide interest. That sparked the creation of Boyce's Paper, a series of regular articles which we would now call a 'blog'.
In 2002, in recognition of his use of "creativity to draw public attention to social issues and engender compassion through mutual understanding", Richardson was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada.
Personal life and death
Richardson's marriage to Shirley, a poet, lasted 56 years and produced four children. She died in 2012. Richardson died of cancer on March 7, 2020.