Prepared for Daniel Francis and Encyclopedia of British Columbia — January, 2000.
[Published in 2000 by Harbour Publishing]
By MICHAEL WALSH
[PART 3: QUOTA QUICKIES — 1933-1938]
One outside event that was to have significant impact in B.C. was the December, 1927 adoption by the United Kingdom’s Parliament of the British Cinematograph Films Act. Designed to protect the U.K.’s own film industry from U.S. predation by imposing a quota on exhibitors, it generously defined Commonwealth-produced films as British.
In July, 1932, British-born Kenneth James Bishop responded to this incentive by incorporating Commonwealth Productions Ltd. in Victoria. With the backing of Kathleen Dunsmuir Humphries, an Oak Bay heiress with acting ambitions, Bishop leased studio space at Willows Park and produced Canada’s first sound feature, The Crimson Paradise.
Though Victoria society turned out for the film's December 14, 1933 premiere, Bishop was not able to find a distributor for his picture, and Commonwealth went broke before releasing its second feature, Secrets of Chinatown (1935).
With the backing of the Los Angeles-based Columbia Pictures, Bishop rebounded to form Central Films in 1935, producing 12 low-budget "quota quickies" in three years. His efforts did not go unnoticed and, in 1938, Britain revised its legislation to exclude such Hollywood-backdoor products.
A second outside event to have impact on B.C.’s film-industry ambitions was the April, 1931, report of the White Inquiry: An Investigation into an Alleged Combine in the Motion Picture Industry in Canada. After hearing months of testimony from Canadian film professionals, including B.C.’s Arthur Kean, the federal royal commission, headed by Ontario jurist Peter White, found that "a combine exists . . . and has existed since the year 1926.”
White found that two U.S. companies — Famous Players Canadian Corp., and Motion Picture Distributors and Exhibitors of Canada — controlled the Canadian film market. Encouraged by White's findings, Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan charged 15 distribution companies with offences under the Combines Investigation Act.
In 1932, following a six-month trial, the Ontario Supreme Court upheld the status quo by finding the defendants not guilty. That same year, B.C. amended its Moving Pictures Act to give the Lieutenant Governor in Council power to implement a quota system for films "of British manufacture," but the power was never used, and the provision was quietly dropped from the Act in 1971.
It was business as usual in 1936, the year the Vancouver Film Society was founded, and the Gaumont British Company went on location in Revelstoke to film Silent Barriers, the story of the building of the CPR.
The above is Part 3 of an eight-part restoration of an Encyclopedia of British Columbia entry written by Michael Walsh originally published in 2000. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
B.C. Filmmaking Industry — Part 1 [Introduction]; Part 2 [1897-1928]; Part 4 [1939-1952]; Part 5 [1953-1967]; Part 6 [1968-1977]; Part 7 [1978-2000]; Part 8 [Bibliography].
◼︎ 1927, December — British Cinematograph Films Act creates film quota legislation for the United Kingdom in which Commonwealth-produced films are defined as British [BC-1/69]
◼︎ 1929, September — Prime Minister R.B. Bennett appoints Ontario jurist Peter White to head a federal government inquiry into film distribution in Canada. [IB/Jan. 81] [BC-1/23]
◼︎ 1931, April 30 — The White Inquiry issues its report: An Investigation into an Alleged Combine in the Motion Picture Industry in Canada. White finds that "a combine exists . . . and has existed since the year 1926," and that two U.S. companies (Famous Players Canadian Corp. and Motion Picture Distributors and Exhibitors of Canada) control the Canadian film market. [IB/Jan. 81] [BC-1/23]
◼︎ 1932 — Following a six-month trial, Justice Charles Garrow of the Ontario Supreme Court finds 15 distribution companies, charged as a result of the White Inquiry, not guilty of offences under the Criminal Code or Combines Investigation Act. [BC-1/23]
◼︎ 1932 — Montreal-based Associated Screen News of Canada, Ltd. begins the Canadian Cameo series of theatrical shorts. It produces 85 films in 23 years between 1932 and 1955. [BC-1/16]
◼︎ 1932, April 6 — B.C. Moving Pictures Act is amended to give the Lieutenant Governor in Council power to implement a quota system for films "of British manufacture." Never used, the power is dropped from the Act in 1971. [BC-1/23]
◼︎ 1932, July 30 — Kenneth J. Bishop incorporates Commonwealth Productions Ltd. and leases Industrial Buildings at Willows Park in Oak Bay. [BC-1/25]
◼︎ 1933, February — Bishop's Commonwealth Productions begins work on The Mystery of Harlow Manor in Victoria. The project is abandoned in favour of The Crimson Paradise, begun in October. [BC-1/25]
◼︎ 1933, Dec. 14 — The Crimson Paradise, the first B.C.-produced talkie, is premiered at the Capitol Theatre, Victoria. [SP/33] [BC-1/25] It was a Thursday. [Ack/100]
◼︎ 1934, March — Commonwealth Productions goes into receivership following the failure of The Crimson Paradise to find distribution. [DS/255];
◼︎ 1935, March — Filmed in 1933 before the Commonwealth Productions collapse, Black Robe (a.k.a. Secrets of Chinatown) premieres at the Empire Theatre in Victoria. [BC-1/26]
◼︎ 1935 — Bishop forms Central Films in Victoria. A front for Columbia Pictures, it produces "quota quickies" for the U.K. market. [HP/8] Its 12 releases include: Lucky Fugitives (1935), Tugboat Princess, Secret Patrol, Stampede, "Lucky" Corrigan, Vengence (1936), Woman Against the World, Death Goes North, Manhattan Shakedown, Murder Is News, Across the Border and Convicted (1937). [BC-1/27-28]
◼︎ 1935 — Leon C. Shelley buys Motion Screenadz. [BC-1/18]
◼︎ 1936 — The Vancouver Film Society founded as the Vancouver Branch of the National Film Society of Canada. VFS members Stan Fox, Allan King, Don Lytle, Phil Keatley go on to work at the CBC Vancouver Film Unit. [BC-2/28]
◼︎ 1936 — Leon C. Shelley buys Vancouver Motion Pictures. [BC-1/18]
◼︎ 1936 — Silent Barriers (aka Great Barriers), a drama based on the building of the CPR, is filmed in Revelstoke by Gaumont British Company. [BC-1/21-22]
◼︎ 1938, Dec. — The U.K. government closes the loophole in its British Cinematograph Films Act that allowed “quota quickies” access to its market. [HP/8] [CF/13] [ES/180]