Filmmaking Industry: 4

The Pre-Television era (1939-1952)

Published: Dec 24 2017, 01:01:am

Prepared for Daniel Francis and Encyclopedia of British Columbia — January, 2000.
[Published in 2000 by Harbour Publishing]

[PART 4: PRE-TELEVISION — 1939-1952]

     Excluded from  theatrical feature production, B.C. filmmakers such as Leon Shelley created a regional industry based on documentaries and sponsored short subjects.
    The pattern of government agencies taking responsibility for a significant portion of production in the province was set in 1939, when B.C.’s Government Travel Bureau established a Photographic Branch, and  Ottawa set up the National Film Board of Canada. Both generated commissions for Shelley's company, Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd.
    In April, 1941, a new force in the exhibition business made its debut in Vancouver, when former Famous Players managing director Nathan Louis Nathanson opened the Vogue Theatre. It was the first link in his new Odeon Theatres chain, a circuit that Britain's Rank Organisation acquired in 1946.
    B.C. filmmakers were optimistic in 1946. Vancouver's Jack Bowdery identified a market niche in the network of 16mm cinemas that had grown during the years of the Second World War (1939-1945). He formed North American Productions, and produced four short features before his market disappeared.  
    Anticipating a post-war film boom, Leon Shelley relocated to Toronto. Left behind was his production manager, Lew Parry, who founded Trans-Canada Films (1946) and then sold it to Don Coltman and Wally Hamilton (1948). Lew Parry Productions, the core of B.C.’s commercial film community into the 1960s, was formed in 1948, when Parry bought out North American Productions.
    Economists predicted that Ottawa would impose a quota on U.S. films to stem the alarming flow of dollars out of the country. Instead, in January of 1948 federal officials sat down to lunch with U.S. film industry lobbyists and signed on to the Canadian Co-operation Project — essentially a promise by the Hollywood studios to include more references to Canada in their films.
    One result of that promise occurred in 1949, when Trans-Canada Films provided location services for the Universal feature Johnny Stool Pigeon. It told the story of a U.S. treasury agent who smashes a drug ring with connections in Vancouver.

The above is Part 4 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 IndustryPart 1 [Introduction];  Part 2  [1897-1928];  Part 3 [1933-1938];  Part 5 [1953-1967];  Part 6 [1968-1977];  Part 7 [1978-2000];  Part 8 [Bibliography].

TIMELINE: 1939-1952
These are the significant events in the history of the B.C. film industry. For those who want to know more, Included in square brackets at the end of each item is a reference  to my source for the information. The first one —  [BC-2/11] — guides you to page one of Dennis Duffy’s Camera West:  British Columbia on Film 1941-1965, published in 1986. All of the works I consulted in the preparation of this history are listed in this posted Bibliography. Each has a reference code to identify it in the Timeline listings.
◼︎    1939 — The federal government’s formation of the National Film Board of Canada means some work is commissioned from Leon Shelley's Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd., [HP/8]; [BC-2/9] but films scripted at a distance end up with an impersonal quality. [BC-2/11]
◼︎    1939 — John Grierson is appointed first commissioner of the National Film Board. [BC-1/30]
◼︎    1939, April — Kenneth J. Bishop's Central Films studio is demolished. [BC-1/28]
◼︎    1940 — Beautiful British Columbia is B.C.’s first professional colour film. Sponsored by the B.C. Government Travel Bureau Photographic Branch, it is made by Leon Shelley's Motion Skreenadz of Vancouver. [BC-2/4, 11]
◼︎    1941, April 15 — N.L. Nathanson opens The Vogue Theatre on Granville Street. The first theatre in his new national Odeon Theatres circuit, it makes its debut with the George Formby comedy I See Ice, a benefit screening in aid of the Queen's Fund for Air Raid Victims. [TS/ 21]  
◼︎    1941, April 18 — Nathanson incorporates Odeon Theatres with a nucleus of four Vancouver theatres. [CD/96]
◼︎    1942 — Canada’s army and navy co-operate in the making of Columbia Pictures' Commandos Strike at Dawn on Vancouver Island. [HP/8] [BC-2/22]
◼︎    1943 — and is the first experimental film made in Vancouver. It is a collaboration between Vancouver Film Society founding member Dorothy Burritt and Margaret Roberts. [RV/54]
◼︎    1944, May — Lew Parry joins Leon Shelly's Vancouver Motion Pictures as production manager. [BC-2/12]
◼︎    1945 — Britain's Rank Organisation completes its acquisition of Canada's Odeon Theatres circuit. [CD/106]
◼︎    1945 — Jack Bowdery (a.k.a Jack Ammon) founds North American Productions to produce features for 16mm theatre circuits. Four movies are made: Dope on the Slopes, Co-eds on Skis, The Changeling Princess and Renegade Gold. [BC-2/24]
◼︎    1945, Aug. — Leon Shelly's Vancouver Motion Pictures opens a "branch plant" in Toronto. [BC-2/12]
◼︎    1946 — Geoffrey Wood's Dominion Productions floats a plan to shoot features in Victoria and build a studio in Vancouver, but nothing comes of it. [BC-2/23]
◼︎    1946 — Leon Shelley relocates his Vancouver Motion Pictures operation to Toronto, renaming the company Shelley Films. [BC-2/12]  
◼︎    1946, March — Lew Parry founds Trans-Canada Films, Vancouver, to make industrial short films. [HP/8] [How/5] [BC-2/13]
◼︎    1948 — Art Jones founds Artray Ltd., an advertising photography studio. [SP/45]
◼︎    1948  — Don Coltman and E. Wallace Hamilton buy the assets of Trans-Canada Films [How/6]
◼︎    1948 — Vancouver Diamond Jubilee is the first of more than 50 films Lew Parry will make chronicling the growth of B.C. Electric (later B.C. Hydro). [BC-2/13]
◼︎    1948 — Parry buys out North American Productions, renaming it Lew Parry Productions. His company is the core of the B.C. film community into the 1960s. [BC-2/12-14]
◼︎    1948, April 27 — Sponsored by the Canadian Association for Adult Education, the first Canadian Film Awards are held in Ottawa's Elgin Theatre. [How/6] [CFA/7] Vancouver filmmaker Dorothy Burrett’s Suite Two: A Memo to Oscar receives an Honourable Mention in the Amateur Film category.
◼︎    1948, Jan. 14 — The Canadian Co-operation Project, the U.S. film industry's alternative to federal film quotas, is accepted by Finance Minister Doug Abbot during a luncheon with lobbyists in Ottawa's Rideau Club. [HC/170]
◼︎    1949 — Wally Hamilton's Trans-Canada Films provides local production assistance to Universal Pictures for Johnny Stool Pigeon.  [BC-2/24]
◼︎    1952 — Telesound, the first West Coast facility for sync-sound recording, dubbing and editing, is founded by Lew Parry, Homer Powell and Dave Pomeroy. [BC-2/14]