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A Short History of Filmmaking at Queen's

Welcome to a very quick survey of some of the highlights of filmmaking at Queen's University over the past one hundred years. Mostly it's just photos we happened to have, but we also dug around to find a few noteworthy things you may not be aware of. -- Derek Redmond


Queen's first real connection with the world of movie making came in 1912, when Dr. Herbert Kalmus, a professor in the School of Mining, began using his lab in Nicol Hall to do experiments in processes for color movie photography. The university was not pleased that he was wasting his time on such non-scientific matters, and sent him an official letter in 1914 telling him to concentrate on serious work. He decided to leave at the end of the school year in 1915, and went to Boston, where he formed a little company called Technicolor.

The same Dr. Kalmus is seen here in Hollywood in 1940 with the technical achievement Oscar given to Technicolor that year. At the same table is Technicolor cameraman Ray Rennahan who received the colour cinematography award for Gone With the Wind. (Photo from Staging History: Cocoanut Grove. For more details on Dr. Kalmus, see Dreaming in Technicolor by Susanna McLeod.)


Meanwhile, Queen's had figured out that maybe movies were here to stay after all, and in 1926 they decided to have a leading Canadian filmmaker named Gordon Sparling produce a film to assist in raising money from Queen's alumni. As well as limestone buildings, football games and science labs, the film showed students just having a good time.


Thirty years later, the next Queen's film we know of was also made for promotional purposes. Once again, lots of limestone and labs in this Crawley Films production directed by Edmund Reid. Also a sequence which doesn't look much different from how Queen's students arrive on campus today, by taxi from the train station.


Another decade passed, and the National Film Board of Canada came to Kingston to take a close look at what was becoming a well-known ritual of student life -- the Applied Science greasepole climb. Their film Pillar of Wisdom included shots taken from high above the mud pit, and this shot showing a student with his own 8mm movie camera.

The student was named John MacLatchy, and his 8mm film revealed the camera truck used by the NFB. John MacLatchy was at Queen's from 1962-67, and during that whole time he used his 8mm home movie camera to document campus activities, particularly football games and residence shenanigans. The footage is now in the Queen's Archives.


In 1969 things changed, when Prof. Peter Harcourt started the Film Studies Department, and production facilities were made available to students in Film House on Stuart Street.

This early photo has students posing in front of our first 16mm editing machine, the Miniola, up on the third floor of Film House. We're not sure if these fellows were actually Film students -- do any alumni recognize them?

The technician is always the unsung hero of film production, and for the first few years of the Department, Harry Oosten, who had been a filmmaker in Holland, was the guy who kept the Bolex 16mm camera, Nagra tape recorder and the other equipment working.


Early films produced by students in the Department included serious and socially-committed documentaries, and wild and experimental narratives including Chris Woods' adaptation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis which had a giant bug on the loose on Princess Street.

In 1975 the Department bought a 16mm Steenbeck flatbed editing table, seen here with filmmaker Brenda Longfellow when she was teaching here.

A new CP16 camera also made sync-sound shooting more feasible.


It wasn't until about 1976 that students began to shoot stories about student life, which has been one of the main subjects for student films ever since. Mark Sobel, who later became a well-established television director, perhaps started it with his film Christine. It included two elements which have since become compulsory in student films -- opening the film with the waking-up-in-bed scene, followed by the frolicking-on-the-frozen-lake scene.

Super-8 film also arrived in the 1970's. The Canon 1014 was popular becuase its huge zoom lens was very cool.


Then video came along, and the early VHS cameras were much less cool-looking.

When we moved from shooting Super-8 film to shooting video, the VHS tape was edited with a linear system which transferred shots from one VCR to another.

But we also bought one of the first Aaton XTR 16mm production cameras in Canada, in 1989.


Shooting in Kingston in the winter is seldom pleasant. (But the winter of 2012 was the first time in 36 years that we didn't have the frozen lake scene in Queen's student films, since the lake didn't freeze.)

In 1995 we had become the first university in Canada to offer computer-based non-linear editing, and by the year 2000 shooting and editing became mostly digital, although every student still shoots some 16mm film.

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