Canada Cinematography Part I

By | December 25, 2021

The composite character of Canadian cinema, especially in its two linguistic-cultural French-speaking and English-speaking components, has reflected, from the very beginning, the mosaic of cultures and traditions and the political diversification of the territories of a confederal country such as Canada. The particular suggestion, majesty and extension of the natural landscape (Niagara Falls, Rocky Mountains), its human geography that develops between the sea, the plains and the mountainous areas have taken on a role in the history of Canadian cinema, both as a ‘set’ ‘privileged of the Hollywood industry, both in contrast or complementarity with particularly futuristic urban contexts, as a source of inspiration for Canadian directors. For Canada 1998, please check

Faced with the ‘colonialism’ of the US film industry (which has always seen in Canada a simple extension and appendage of its market hegemony), the government’s effort over the years has been to prepare legislation to encourage independent production. of the various regions, and has resulted in a cinematographic creativity attentive to experimentation and independent production. In this sense, the development of important Canadian ‘schools’ of documentary and animation filmmaking is fundamental, thanks also to the activity carried out in the country by prestigious filmmakers from Great Britain such as John Grierson and Norman McLaren.

In June 1896, the first cinématographes Lumière were established in Montreal and throughout Québec. Foreign amateur operators filmed the great landscapes in animated views, also attentive to indigenous cultures or major current events. The spectacular, naturalistic, picturesque elements were typical not only of tourist films, such as the Pathé Canada pittoresque series (1907), but also of the first fiction filmed in Canada, by Joseph Rosenthal, Hiawatha, the Messiah of Ojibway (1903, by HW Longfellow). The first film products, however, were the prerogative of foreign companies. This prompted Canadians to emulate; Léo-Ernest Ouimet opened the first screening room, the Ouimetoscope, in Montréal, in 1906, thus becoming the first Canadian director-producer-distributor and producing numerous views, set in Quebec. Overcoming the linguistic divisions, it was not until 1922 that the first French-speaking Québécois feature film, Madeleine de Verchères by Joseph-Arthur Homier, was made on a subject of local history in seventeenth-century New France. Meanwhile, the attitude of cultural and industrial colonization of American cinema, and the conditioning of the institution of government and religious censorship, stifled the development of a cinema with a Canadian identity.

However, 1917 was a key year in this sense. In fact, a government organization was founded, the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, which would produce educational and tourist films until the 1930s. In the same year, the Canadian government established a first official body, the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau, which in 1923 was renamed the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau (CGMPB), but its production until the late 1930s was mainly of a documentary and propaganda character. ; in Trenton (Ontario), Canadian National Features set up the first film studio in 1917, which became the ‘Hollywood of the North’ until the late 1930s. Between the end of the 1910s and the 1920s there was a brief flowering of feature films, mostly made by a producer trained in California, Ernest Shipman (in collaboration with his wife Nell, actress and screenwriter): God’s Crucible (1920), Cameron of the Royal Mounted (1921), Henry MacRae’s The man from Glengarry (1922) and David’s Back to God’s Country (1919) M. Hartford, all romantic or adventure stories, in which the natural landscape of the exteriors plays a fundamental role. But the distribution and exercise of American prerogative increasingly conditioned the establishment of a cultural and industrial identity of Canadian cinema. Theaters came under the control of a Paramount subsidiary, Famous Players, in the 1920s, while French-speaking attempts to independently produce and distribute films, such as Homier’s uplifting drama La drogue fatale (1923), failed to cross the territory of the Quebec. The news and documentary current events remained the activities of Canadian independent cinema with an autonomous distributive breath. Thus the Associated Screen News (ASN) was formed in Montréal, a company that would last until 1958, but which was nevertheless forced to collaborate with the US industry, for example. printing copies of American films for the Canadian territory and favoring the big Hollywood houses in cutting customs costs. The independent production of ASN was mainly documentary, and a religious, Albert Tessier, became a pioneer of the documentary by making about seventy short films in 16 mm on the material culture, everyday life, traditions of Québec. Thus, during the silent period, attempts to establish a Canadian industry failed,

The advent of sound did not facilitate the growth of the industry since, given the bilingual context, the problem of the spoken language of the films arose. The monopoly of the US industry was getting heavier, however the lack of industrial investment paradoxically stimulated the practice of short-pitched documentary in Québec. A production that ended up reflecting the historical and social progress of the French-speaking region, and which included a significant feature-length documentary such as En pays neufs (1937) by Maurice Proulx, another ‘priest-director’, who was active until the 1960s. During the Thirties in the English Canada the situation worsened also economically due to the massive penetration of American products. Hollywood majors ruled, taking possession of the few film studios and large natural spaces offered by Canada, to shoot low-cost films, mostly adventure films, aimed at the English-speaking market. Documentary research continued its evolution: significant was the work, characterized by a polyphonic visual structure and a great editing rhythm, by Gordon Sparling, in a film that reflected the linguistic and cultural complexity of Canada as Rhapsody in two languages ​​(1934). The US industry, which had also attempted to invade the French-speaking market, by distributing French films of which it held the foreign exploitation rights, suddenly in recent years left the ground to the initiative of entrepreneurs from Québec, who began to create a distribution and operating fabric reserved for products in the French language. The Canadian operation in the field of documentary aroused the attention of an English master like J. Grierson, who in 1939 went to Ottawa to direct a new institution he himself proposed to the government of Canada, the Office National du Film (ONF), where he organized a training activity for indigenous directors and operators. In the meantime, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Grierson set the stage for the production of numerous series of war newsreels and democratic propaganda.

Canada Cinematography