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Preservation of Canadian Motion Picture Films

The facts are startlingly clear. Prints of Evangeline (1913), the first Canadian feature film, are no longer in existence. Neither are there any prints of the first Canadian feature shot with sound nor the first CBC-TV shows that aired in 1953. And it's not just these early works that have all but disappeared. Decent prints of Canadian features made as recently as the 1970s are no longer available.-Binning

After seeing the documentary Keepers of the Frame about the American film industry and their attempts in film preservation, I became interested in what our country is doing to preserve its cultural film heritage. Our film industry differs from the studio system of the United States. We do have independent film makers, but many of our historical/older films have come from the National Film Board of Canada. Film in Canada is financially supported by the government and its policies. I also wondered about how our national identity and self-esteem affects how we treat our historical and current films (although this is slightly outside the purview of this assignment). What I found was a convoluted history of government support and withdrawal, regional differences and conflicts, and amazing technological advances.

Preservation/restoration of Canadian film does not exist on a solely technical basis. The issue of selection criteria becomes important when facing the large volume of film needing care (despite how much we have already lost). As with any preservation project, factors need to be considered:

If there are unlimited funds, unlimited time, unlimited manpower, there would be no debate about preservation choices; we could save everything. That is not the case, however, so will we have to choose between Strange Brew and The Life and Times of Edwin Alonzo Boyd (1983)?

The concern surrounding film preservation seems to have begun in the 1970s and 1980s. Very little literature on this topic exists before that period. It was probably expected that old films would last forever. Concern arose not only when old film shriveled up (and sometimes exploded) but also when more recently shot film started to fade and distort. Suddenly, there was some urgency in the industry to save their treasures. The increase in DVD sales, with special features, also made the preservation of older film a preservation of profits. I found next to nothing published before the 1980s on the topic. Most information was tucked into books about Canadian film history. After the Canadian Task Force published Fading Away, a document about the state of audio-visual preservation in Canada, the AV Preservation Trust was formed. Now there are informative websites for various preservation organizations, and a few more published articles. Pulling all these resources together gives us an overview of the varied issues surrounding preservation of motion pictures in Canada.