Tag Archives: Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Hollywood Comes to Canada: The Making of Captains of the Clouds

Written by guest blogger Dr. Jessica Leonora Whitehead

During the Oscars this year a new PSA aired from the Canadian Media Fund, launching the MADE Campaign, which celebrates the work of Canadians in the film industry from both home and abroad. Narrated by Christopher Plumber, scenes from Hollywood productions like Deadpool, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Spiderman are shown as Christopher Plumber tells the audience: “This is Canadian content and it’s time we take credit for it. Starting now.” While today Canada is labeled Hollywood North with Canadian cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and even the Northern Ontario cities of Sudbury and North Bay acting as regular shooting locations for American productions, this was not always the case. My article for the Canadian Journal of Film Studies explores the historical roots of Canada as a shooting location for Hollywood films by examining one of the first Hollywood features shot in Canada, the 1942 war epic Captains of the Clouds.



The concept for Captains of the Clouds was developed in conjunction with the Canadian government and Warner Brother Studios. In 1941, the United States had not yet entered the war, but many Americans were joining the Royal Canadian Air force (RCAF) thanks in part to Canadian lobbying groups like the Clayton Knight Committee, which encouraged Americans to join the war effort. The RCAF wanted to partner with Hollywood to showcase their air training plan and signed a contract with Warner Brothers on 28 January 1941 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which was also, probably not coincidentally, the headquarters of the Clayton Knight Committee. Shortly after the deal was signed, RCAF Lieutenant Owen Cathcart-Jones was sent to California to work as an advisor on the film about two Canadian bush pilots, who join the RCAF to support the war effort.

Much to the chagrin of Hollywood, one of the Canadian government’s only stipulations about the film, other than they agree to show the RCAF in a positive light, was that the film had to be shot in Canada. The government hoped that the film would give jobs to Canadians, but instead the entire cast and crew came to Canada from Hollywood, which the North Bay Nugget described as a “Cavalcade to Canada.”

A page from the North Bay Nugget about the production of the film dated 6 March 1941, 20

One of the largest roles to go to a Canadian was Brenda Marshall’s stand in who was an Ottawa woman by the name of Rita Cross and she received front-page coverage in Canadian newspapers. The focused coverage for a stand in role is in many ways the perfect metaphor for Canada’s relationship with Hollywood because despite decades of attempts Canada remains as a peripheral force in the film industry. In the case of Captains of the Clouds, Warner Brothers completely rewrote the script, the production crew fought the inclusion of Canadian workers on the set, and most of the Canadian actors that appeared in the film were stand-ins and extras.

Rita Cross on the cover of the North Bay Nugget dated 31 July 1941, 1.

The American producers left with a negative view of the country and wrote in one of their reports that the people of North Bay were thirty years behind in everything and that they would never want to leave their studio in Burbank again. It would not be until decades later that Canada was made into a regular shooting location for Hollywood, but the production of Captain of the Clouds highlights the historical roots for Canada as a shooting location for Hollywood films. Although today the MADE Campaign is trying to label Hollywood films shot in Canada as Canadian content my article demonstrates how Canada often has a stand in role when Hollywood comes to town.

Dr. Jessica Leonora Whitehead will be starting an Arts and Science Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto in July and holds a PhD from York University. Her dissertation, Cinema-Going on the Margins: The Mascioli Film Circuit of Northeastern Ontario was funded by a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, and was nominated for both York University’s Dissertation Award and the Barbara Godard Dissertation Award. Her research is also supported by the Italian American Studies Association Memorial Fellowship, which she was awarded in 2018. She has published articles in the journals Transformative Works and Cultures, Italian Canadiana and chapters in the books Cinema Outside the City: Rural Cinema-going from a Global Perspective and Mapping Movie Magazines. In addition, she is the co-editor of an upcoming collection in the journal TMJ: Journal for Media History. Her research has also been featured on the CBC’s radio show Up North and in the Timmins Daily Press.

Read Dr. Whitehead’s latest article, “Hollywood Goes North: The Making of a ‘Canadian’ War Epic, Captains of the Clouds” free to read for a limited time here.

Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw

Written by guest blogger Seth Feldman.

Battle of the Somme (Geoffrey Malins and J.B. McDowell, 1916) was the most seen non-fiction film made during the Great War and in wartime Britain, the most seen film, period. For a hundred years bits of its remarkable footage have appeared in documentaries to the point where they have become iconic of the Great War itself. Battle of the Somme was the first film inducted into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, inspiring a digitally restored print by the Imperial War Museum and a second premiere with full orchestra a new score. In recent years, some film historians have argued that it should be designated as the first true documentary.

My problem in writing about Battle of the Somme was that to a twenty-first century audience the film doesn’t look like much. It is largely a procession of silent film intertitles, nearly one per minute, describing the shots we will see next. Almost all of these shots can be divided between preparations for the battle and its aftermath, with very few shots of the battle itself. Malins and McDowell, who worked separately, had been told to collect random shots to be used in newsreels. There was no idea for a narrative and, with wartime censorship in place, there was little mention of the bloodbath that had taken place while they were shooting.

Yet Battle of the Somme is more than just an historical curiosity. My hope was to use it as an archaeological exercise, a tool for imagining the way in which the audiences of 1916 saw it. Usually, writing about film audiences is based on reviews, newspaper reports and in some cases research by a film’s producers. And there has been some excellent writing of this kind about Battle of the Somme. But what I hoped to do was to recreate the 1916 British audience from the emotional context in which they watched the film to the way they would perceive certain shot compositions by Malins and McDowell as well as the editing credited to Malins and Charles Urban (one of the lesser sung heroes of early non-fiction filmmaking).

Battle of the Somme’s audience was an unusually homogeneous group. All of them were embarking on the third year of an unprecedented catastrophe; most coping with anxieties about friends and loved ones at the front. They were also increasingly resentful of the conditions the War had imposed upon them. As official propaganda, Battle of the Somme intended to raise their morale by connecting their sacrifices to soldiers at the front. What they saw was the enthusiasm of the troops, the care given to the wounded and, of course, what were then the battle’s small victories. Given the timing of the film’s release – while the four and a half month battle was ongoing – it also played upon the audiences’ desires for the “big push” that would finally end the conflict. Various shots in the film as well as the film’s editing and the wording of the intertitles show how this was attempted in a subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle manner.

My work was to scrutinize writing on the film and the film itself. This was made both more arduous and rewarding by the many publications released during the Great War Centennial. I then made notes to myself on and off for about a year before I even began to write. In all, the paper took far longer to produce than did the film. And while its distribution will be dwarfed by Battle of the Somme, my hope is that this archaeological exercise will provide readers with insight into other peoples’ as it existed a century ago.

Seth Feldman is an author, broadcaster, film programmer and Full Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto. His latest Canadian Journal of Film Studies article, Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw” is temporarily free to read on UTP Journals Online.

The Origin and Development of “Strange Bedfellows”

Written by guest blogger Wayne Batten.



Readers may well wonder how I became interested in this topic. When I somewhat belatedly realized how the internet had changed the conditions under which pornography is accessed and viewed, my reaction, particularly in light of my concern for young people who would likely encounter it, was a combination of shock and, to be truthfully melodramatic, heartbreak. At some point, it occurred to me that these are not far removed from Aristotle’s tragic emotions, fear and pity.

Since the prurient genre is not likely to go away or lose its appeal, I decided that I would make an effort to enculturate it, to domesticate the threat by exploring its tragic potential. A second impetus came in June of 2015, when I returned to the Victoria and Albert Museum and encountered Canova’s statue of Theseus and the Minotaur. Here was obscenity hiding in plain sight, melded with high art. Consequently, I became even more intrigued with the possibility that pornography too held something of great value, which needed the discipline of tragic theory to bring to light.

The resulting article has made me feel like Blanche Dubois: very much indebted to the kindness of strangers. In its original sprawling state, it brought one rejection without substantial comment. A second effort at submission resulted in an explanation from the editors that they did not consider “free lance” or over-the-transom work; however, they included an extensive list of film journals that would. From one of these, I received lengthy, astute, and very helpful comments and suggestions, which made me recall a comment that Charlotte Brontë (if I recall correctly) once made about receiving a letter of rejection so illuminating that it was more beneficial to her than a terse acceptance would have been. The present, revised article is thus the result of a good deal of professional kindness, which I may be fortunate enough someday to extend to other scholars.

Wayne Batten holds degrees from the University of Wyoming and Vanderbilt University. After a postdoctoral appointment in the Vanderbilt department of English, he served on the teaching faculty of Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee, for thirty years. Having retired in 2015, he has been researching and writing full time, largely in nineteenth-century literature. He has published articles on Kate Chopin, Jesse Hill Ford, and Charles Dickens. His current research extends to the art of adaptation and cinema. He resides with his partner of thirty-seven years in Nashville.

Read his article “Strange Bedfellows: Tragedy and Pornography” in Canadian Journal of Film Studies 27.2, free to read for a limited time here.

At the Avant-Garde: Queer Cities, Cinemas, and Festivals on the Prairies

Written by guest blogger, Jonathan Petrychyn.

If asked to guess where Canada’s oldest and longest-running queer film festival is located, most people wouldn’t think to start guessing cities on the Canadian Prairies. Most would guess Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver. But in fact, it all started in Winnipeg in 1985 – a full two years before Montreal, three before Vancouver, six before Toronto.

This fact comes as a surprise to many. The prairies are typically conceived as a very conservative region of the country, deeply hostile to queer people. But, as my own research and the research of other scholars has shown, there have been queer people on the prairies – and these queers have been screening, making, and distributing film for as long as their peers in bigger cities.

In my article for the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, I tell the history of expanded cinema and performance art at Queer City Cinema, Canada’s longest-running (and, until the Toronto Queer Film Festival emerged in 2016, its only) experimental queer film festival. Located in Regina, Saskatchewan, the festival has been organized and curated by performance artist Gary Varro since 1996. Like many other queer film festivals that emerged in the 1990s, the festival initially focused on screening just film and video. But, as popular acceptance and interest in queer films, videos, and television programs grew in the mid-2000s, Canada’s queer film festivals found themselves at a crossroads. Once the only place queer cinema could be reliably screened, queer film festivals were now competing for space with television and the multiplexes. Some responded to this by reorienting their festivals as industry hubs, focused on nurturing the next generation of queer filmmakers. But Varro expanded Queer City Cinema’s curatorial mandate and made a space where queer artists could experiment and push the boundaries between film, performance, media and art.

Queer City Cinema remains on the vanguard of queer film festival curation in Canada. In 2006, Varro brought on Deidre Logue to curate Queering Plunder, the festival’s first expanded cinema exhibition, which included Aleesa Cohene’s Ready to Cope (pictured above). In 2017, Varro curated an all-John Waters festival featuring a campy mix of new performance art, classic queer Canadian short films alongside all of Waters’s features. This year, the 22nd year of the festival, is devoted explicitly to work by QTBIPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous people of colour) and is dedicated to the memories of Tina Fontaine and Colton Bushie. Queer City Cinema is the first queer film festival in the prairie region – and indeed, perhaps in Canada – to devote an entire festival’s programming exclusively on QTBIPOC filmmakers since the Calgary’s The Fire I’ve Become ended in 1996.

Queer City Cinema – and the history of queer film festivals on the prairies that I’ve intimated in this short post –­ is living proof that scholars of queer cinema and of sexuality in Canada need to pay closer attention to the prairie region. Exciting, important, and politically necessary work is being done in the region; in many ways, the prairies are truly Canada’s new avant-garde. Those of us located in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have much to learn from their organizers and activists.


PhotoAleesa Cohene’s Ready to Cope in Queering Plunder, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, 2006.

Jonathan Petrychyn is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow and PhD Candidate in Communication & Culture at York and Ryerson Universities in Toronto. His article “Film Festivals in the White Cube: Queer City Cinema as Artistic Practice” will be free to read in the upcoming issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Sign up for the CJFS mailing list to be notified when the issue goes online.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Sexual Violence, Korean Cinema, and the “Me Too” Movement

Written by guest blogger, Marc Raymond.

Our Sunhu

My essay in the most recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, “Women Stripped Bare: Rape in the Films of Hong Sang-soo,” seems to be particularly timely given the current “Me Too” movement, which has recently spread into South Korea as well, including the film industry. This was, as is often the case, almost completely accidental, as I first came up with the idea for the piece many years ago. However, I qualify this with an “almost” because I do think there is an overlap between my reasons for thinking of the topic and the eventual cultural upheaval we are witnessing, especially here in South Korea.

One of the most disturbing stories to emerge from the local industry is the case of Kim Ki-duk, the director of the massive art house success Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring back in 2004 and a regular of the international festival circuit ever since. Domestically, Kim has always had a much more problematic reputation, in part because of accusations of misogyny, but he has also been defended as an authentic, working class artist who bravely deals with aspects of Korean society that the genteel middle class would prefer to ignore (see Hye Seung Chung’s 2012 monograph for the most elaborate articulation of this position). However, recent allegations of multiple and widespread sexual assaults on Kim’s sets have made this position much more difficult to defend and caused many to reconsider and re-evaluate their relationship to his work (for example, see this review of Kim’s most recent film by critic Pierce Conran). I have always found Kim’s work overrated and have been frequently critical of his films, but the revelations did cause me to think about my own relationship to film artists and how this will be impacted going forward.

The original idea for my essay on rape in Hong’s films did not come from one of his works; rather, it was from the 1999 film Lies, directed by Jang Sun-woo, a controversial filmmaker who was in many ways Kim Ki-duk’s predecessor, although one with a much more refined social conscience. There is a scene in which an 18-year-old high school student is asked by her older lover why she decided to start an affair with him. She responds that she would probably have been raped soon anyways, so she decided to choose to have sex first. It is a darkly humorous line, seemingly hyperbolic, but one which resonated. Indeed, sexual violence seemed omnipresent in Korean cinema, both currently and going back over the previous decades. I had just completed a stylistic analysis of Hong’s films and was looking to write about something more thematic. So, I began to wonder if the subject of sexual assault was worth exploring. I had noticed that representations of sexuality had disappeared from his work after featuring prominently earlier, and once I began to think about the role of rape in his narratives, the more striking and even pervasive it seemed. It even seemed slightly perverse that it had not yet been discussed.

Thus, I do think there is an incidental connection between my interest in writing this article and the current revaluation of the film industry. Looking at the essay now, I am thankful that its claims for the potential progressiveness of Hong’s early depictions of sexual violence are exclusively textual and not part of a broader attempt to defend him as an artist. I am also glad that there is a critique of the later films, especially in the professor-student relationships of Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi, although it is likely that this will seem too weak if this aspect of Hong’s films (and its connection to his personal behaviour) becomes more of an issue. Ultimately, I hope it provides a contribution to the debate around not only Hong’s work or Korean cinema, but also in the analysis of sexual assault in texts more generally, especially in those cases where this violence is hidden in plain sight.

Marc Raymond is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Kwangwoon University in Seoul, South Korea. He is the author of Hollywood’s New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese (SUNY Press, 2013) and has published essays in the journals Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Film Criticism, Film History, Jump Cut, New Review of Film and Television Studies, and Style. His article “Women Stripped Bare: Rape in the Films of Hong Sang-soo” can be found in the latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Read it here: https://doi.org/10.3138/CJFS.26.1.2017-0003.