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.

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