Rewind: The Electric City Goes to the Movies

Rewind Goes to the MoviesIt could be the source for a movie plot: a historical romance perhaps, architectural dynasties made and lost, a censorship scandal. ReFrame Peterborough International Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014 by looking back at Peterborough’s ongoing love affair with the moving image in a 2 part multimedia exhibit entitled Rewind: The Electric City Goes to the Movies and Rewinding the Galaxy. The rise and fall of the glamorous Bradburn and Grand Opera Houses, the connection with mysterious theatre impresario Ambrose Small, arrests of local film festival producers for refusing to cut an art film banned by the censor board – yes, it all happened right here in our town.

ReFrame’s team of experts has researched and compiled the local history of film and its influence on our culture, architecture and social fabric with an in-depth exhibit that runs from January 13-27, 2014.

From travelling showmen with portable film equipment to movie screenings in Jackson Park, from the Penny Arcade and popup nickolodeons on George St. to the Bradburn Opera House which operated for almost 100 years, Rewind explores the rich history of movie-going in our town through archival photos, text and film clips. We’ve watched movies at the Peterborough Drive-in, at the Millbrook Three-Minute Film Festival, in the Kaos Cafe and Revue Cinema, Trent’s Wenjack Theatre, the Union Theatre, and the PCVS Auditorium – Rewind documents the changing face of movie theatres in the Electric City and the many ways its citizens have watched movies through the years.

Krista English, Executive Director of ReFrame, writes: “The idea came about when John Wadland [former professor at Trent’s Canadian Studies Department] mentioned to me after watching Sarah Polley’s film (Stories We Tell) at ReFrame last year, that 30 years prior he watched a film her biological father, Harry Gulkin had made at Canadian Images. It got me thinking that there is a history of film in Peterborough that probably connects in weird and wonderful ways. I approached Robert Clarke who I know is very interested in cinema and is originally from Peterborough to ask him whether he thought there might be an idea of researching the film history. That was the beginning … It’s been a massive undertaking but I think we’ve come up with an interesting exhibit.”

A concurrent exhibit curated by Eric Lehman, Micky Renders and Briar Sutherland explores the continuity of the site of the Bradburn Opera House with its silent films to our present day Galaxy Cinema. The Art Gallery of Peterborough hosts Rewinding the Galaxy which opens January 17th and runs until March 16th, 2014.

The Electric City has been on the forefront of cinema in Canada since its inception in 1897, not long after the first electric lights in Canada came on in Peterborough in 1884, and only 2 years after the Lumière brothers publicly screened the world’s first motion picture. It’s hard to imagine a time when the Canadian film industry was not recognized for its distinctive voice, or before TIFF and the experimental Images Festival in Toronto became world-class film festivals, but the Peterborough arts community played an important role in their evolution.

Local arts doula Su Ditta of Wild Ideas Art Consulting was there. She writes: “In 1978, the Canadian Studies Department at Trent University organized a breakthrough cultural symposium on filmmaking in Canada. Filmmakers, critics, historians, funders and policy makers, students and members of the public gathered in Peterborough for the event Canadian Images: State of the Art/State of the Industry. It was a huge success, a smashing weekend of screenings and critical discussions about cinema in Canada …

“… It was a kind of cinematic rumble. Screening everything from Super 8 to 35 mm films, in its last year, Canadian Images presented 8 workshops, think tanks and seminars and showed more than 400 films … over six days, in 13 venues, including every lecture hall and auditorium at Trent University, Artspace, the AGP, the Peterborough Public Library and at the Paramount and Odeon Theatres downtown.”

Canadian Images was held annually in Peterborough between 1978 to 1984, with broadly based programming that showcased Canadian content. A challenge to the Ontario Film Censorship Board with an illegal screening of “A Message From Our Sponsor“, and the resulting court case for the infamous Peterborough Four, eventually spelled the demise of the seminal festival. You can watch a 1982 flashback on the the news item from CHEXTV below. The Toronto International Film Festival continued where Canadian Images left off and continues to feature Canadian made cinema.

Bottom line, I have only scratched the surface of what there is to experience at these 2 exhibitions. And as usual, Rewind is only a slice of what ReFrame has to offer:

Milagros for Migrants: A collaboration between artist Deborah Barndt and filmmaker Min Sook Lee is on display at Market Hall throughout the festival.

REELKids: Workshops and films focus on junior film-goers and makers.

Still ReFrame: From January 6-31, 2014, don’t miss this multi-venue visual arts roundup entitled “Looking Forward, Looking Back.” It’s curated by Elizabeth Fennell, founder of the Peterborough Darkroom Project and owner/operator of Gallery in the Attic, both of which are located in the historic Roy Studio Building. Download the map and be sure to do a walkabout downtown to see this exhibit.

And of course the films: ReFrame continues to give us a selection of remarkable, award-winning, uncompromising indie films – powerful journalism, deeply personal journeys and provocative storytelling. I expect nothing less than to be shaken to the core, uplifted and rewired during the 2014 festival which runs from January 24-26, 2014. See you at the movies.

ReFrame website »

A Work in Progress: An Illustrated Book on Peterborough’s Movie-Going History by Robert G. Clarke »


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