Sunday, January 22, 2012

HBC Film from 1919-20 restored

The news is out about newly-restored footage from a travelogue film made in 1919 at the behest of the Hudson's Bay Company, Romance of the Far Fur Country. Although the actual prints of the film as shown in 1920 are lost, much of the source footage was uncovered in an HBC deposit at the BFI by historian Peter Geller, who wrote about the film in his book Northern Exposures: Photographing and Filming the Canadian North, 1920-45. Now, thanks to Winnipeg-based Five Door Films, and funding from the Manitoba Arts Council, a restored version, Return of the Far Fur Country, has been assembled, and is being screened across Canada, including in Nunavut where many of the scenes were filmed.

It's certainly historically significant footage, although as a commissioned film designed to show the HBC in a good light on the occasion of its 250th anniversary, it can't quite be considered a documentary in my mind (although the same might be said of Nanook of the North, which was paid for by the Révillon Frères fur company, which similarly expected that its activities be seen as benign and even beneficial). It's not by any means the earliest Arctic footage -- there were at least a dozen earlier "factual" films shot in the Arctic -- but since only a tiny proportion of this earlier footage survives, much of it in poor condition, this relatively pristine film is surely the earliest extensive view we have, or are likely to have, of the Arctic from the early twentieth century. I'm planning to see about getting some screenings down here in the U.S. closer to where I live, and if followers of this blog from other parts of the world are interested, I hope that they too will contact the producers.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lady Franklin's Ancanthe Under Threat

In 1839, during the time that Sir John Franklin was serving as Governor of Van Diemen's Land, Lady Franklin bought 130 acres of land near Hobart Town with the intention of setting up both a large botanical garden and an associated library and collection of natural history (many items of which she had collected). The museum building was fashioned after a Greek temple, and it and the surrounding gardens were to be known as "Ancanthe." Sir John Franklin himself laid the corner stone.

Alas, after the Franklins' departure, her Ladyship's plans languished; in 1853 all the collections and the library were removed, and the temple used to store apples and potatoes. Fortunately, the museum building itself was returned to the City of Hobart in 1936, with the stipulation that it not be moved, and be used in a manner consistent with Lady Franklin's intentions. The Art Society of Tasmania uses it for exhibition space, and that's surely something of which Jane would have approved.

Yet since then, the gardens and estate surrounding Ancanthe have been reduced again and again, with even the central ten acres facing incursions. And then, just recently, they have fallen under threat from a proposed subdivision whose backer, David Crean, has managed to avoid review by the full Hobart City Council. Concerned over the threat to this historically significant and beautiful property, local citizens have recently expressed their views, urging to City to purchase and permanently preserve the area adjacent to the original Ancanthe estate as public lands. They have established a Facebook page, the Save Ancanthe Group, and are urgently seeking donations and support. I urge every reader of this blog, and everyone with any interest in the vital historical ties between Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin and Tasmania, to support this cause, and let their views be known.