This edited video clip from Out of the Shadows (BC Archives AAAA2523) shows how two separate video transfers have been combined to create the best possible version of the film’s opening sequence. At 0:27, the video transitions from the poorer, more complete VHS transfer to the better quality 1-inch master. At 1:43, a single word of the narration and its accompanying video, which were missing from the master, have been inserted from the VHS copy.
These comments are from my introductory talk at the National Canadian Film Day 150 screening at the Royal BC Museum, April 19, 2017. The screening featured five documentaries from the BC Archives collection, made in the years 1941-1959.
In the world of motion picture preservation, major archives that labour to preserve and restore feature films usually work with the original 35 mm negatives; the results can be quite remarkable, and a pleasure to look at. Institutions like the BC Archives, on the other hand, have a mandate to preserve what are sometimes called “ephemeral films” — documentaries, travelogues, TV news footage, and industrial, promotional, or educational films. Far too often, the original 16 mm printing materials for these films no longer exist. Many films about British Columbia survive today only as circulated released prints, which have been projected many times, and show obvious signs of wear and damage.
I’m reminded of “The Film Prayer”, which for many years used to show up on a card or sticker in every can of circulating film.
Many films that had cause to offer this prayer have ended up at the BC Archives, which has endeavored to preserve the best (sometimes the only) surviving copy. The interesting and unique content of these films still captures our attention today, despite the limitations of the extant prints.
This program features four BC films which have survived in this form. These circulated prints were transferred to analog videotape in the 1980s, and the tape masters were recently digitized for better access. The fifth film only ever existed as a spliced original picture reel, which was fully restored by the BC Archives for National Film Week in 1986.
All of these films date from the 1940s and 1950s. They are postcards from a long-lost world when some BC cities were ostentatiously British, or perhaps draped in film noir shadows; when narrators often spoke in “purple prose”; when men went everywhere dressed in plaid shirts (topped with Cowichan sweaters); and when almost everybody wore a hat. They offer a priceless look at how we saw ourselves, back in the middle of the 20th century.
Vancouver Island : British Columbia’s Island Playground
BC Government Travel Bureau, Photographic Branch, 1941-42
21 minutes, colour
The first colour-and-sound travelogue produced in-house by the BC government. The BC Archives holds the only known copy of the 1941-42 version, donated in 1979 by a private citizen. The original reversal printing elements of this version were later re-cut to create the 1951 and 1956-57 versions, both of which bore the same title.
Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA3013.
Out of the Shadows
Lew Parry Film Productions, 1957, for the Salvation Army Harbour Light Corps
27 minutes, b&w
A poignant film about the daily life of a homeless alcoholic on the streets of Vancouver’s Skid Row, and his recovery through the aid of the Salvation Army. To view more and read about the film, see my blog posts City of Shadows and A Path from the Shadows.
Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA2523.
Salmon for Food
Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd., [ca. 1945], for BC Packers Ltd.
16 minutes, colour
A commercial short about the BC salmon industry, with unique glimpses of working conditions for female cannery workers.
Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA2669.
BC Power Commission, Public Information Division, [ca. 1959]
14 minutes, colour
Electrical utility workers patrol an essential power line high in the snow-covered mountains between the Arrow Lakes and Slocan Lake in the West Kootenays. These edited excerpts show the workers traveling in a Sno-Cat over-snow vehicle to the 6,750-foot summit of the line.
Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA2987.
In the Daytime : [1986 restored version]
Stanley Fox & Peter Varley, 1949-50
22 minutes, b&w
An impressionistic documentary showing people on a summer day off in Vancouver, made by two talented amateurs on a budget of sixty dollars. The sound editing and film lab work necessary for the 1986 restoration cost $2,500, funded through a grant from the BC Heritage Trust. (It would probably cost three or four times that today.) The museum’s Learning Pathway on amateur filmmaking includes an excerpt, showing activities in Stanley Park.
Photographic frame enlargement from BC Archives AAAA1518.