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Faustus Bidgood was the first feature-length film produced exclusively in Newfoundland.
Film and documentary making increased in the 1980s.

This web page was funded in part by the Millennium Bureau of Canada
Film and Video

The Newfoundland film industry was born during the cultural revival that swept the province in the 1970s. The tenets of that revival -- the challenge to authority, the search for a distinct Newfoundland perspective, the do-it-yourself ethic -- infused the films of the era. Those guiding principles are still in evidence today, though Newfoundland film has grown from modest beginnings to an industry that attracted $9 million in investment in 1999.

There's evidence of Newfoundlanders shooting film and newsreel footage as far back as 1904. The most famous of the early Newfoundland film makers was Captain Bob Bartlett, who toured the United States in the 1930s with documentaries of his sea-faring adventures. The island was occasionally a shooting location for feature films such as The Viking, a 1931 Hollywood adventure made during the seal hunt. Following Confederation numerous documentaries and nature films were made in the province, usually by visiting film crews.

Camera Crew of The Viking, ca. 1930.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Col - 203), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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The Viking

The young actors, writers, and photographers who began making local films in the early 1970s were based primarily in St. John's. With little experience and less money they gathered whatever equipment they could find and taught themselves how to make movies. Their earliest works were short black-and-white films. Some of them, such as Sisters of the Silver Scalpel (1978), convey the acerbic taste for satire and absurdity that would come to be associated with Newfoundland film and television.

The first feature-length film to be produced exclusively in Newfoundland was made on a miniscule budget and took over ten years to complete. The Adventures Of Faustus Bidgood (1986) tells the story of a bewildered bureaucrat who, following a revolution, unwittingly becomes the first ruler of the The People's Republic of Newfoundland. An enigmatic and disjointed comedy, its commercial success was modest. But with its irreverent and iconoclastic approach and its status as Newfoundland's first "real movie," Faustus has acquired near-mythical status.

Faustus Bidgoodd was the first major production of the Newfoundland Independent Filmmaker's Cooperative (NIFCO). Established in 1975 and based in a two-story house in downtown St. John's, NIFCO was formed to encourage cooperation among filmmakers and provide affordable access to cameras, film, editing rooms and other resources. Most of the filmmakers in this province developed their skills as NIFCO members, and most of the films produced have utilized the cooperative and its facilities.

Short film and documentary work expanded rapidly in the 1980s. Standards of quality and professionalism improved and documentaries such as The Last Days Of Okak (1985) found international audiences. Feature films, being expensive and labour intensive, were still few and far between. But features such as Welcome To Canada (1989) and Secret Nation (1992) reflect significant leaps from the early days.

Secret Nation Cast of Secret Nation, ca. 1992.
(l-r) John Holmes, Richard Cashin, Brian Downey, unidentified.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Col - 121, 11.01), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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With the proliferation of new television networks and the growing profile of Newfoundland talent, filmmakers became more aggressive in pursuing financing and distribution deals. Women's film work was encouraged and supported through The St. John's International Women's Film and Video Festival and the National Film Board. Cooperation with other provinces resulted in successful co-productions such as The Boys Of St. Vincent (1992).

St. John's International Women's Film and Video Festival Poster, 2000.
Reproduced by permission of the St. John's International Women's Film and Video Festival Committee.
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Film Festival

The new century began with feature film production at a peak of activity. Many producers and directors continue to bring a singular Newfoundland perspective to their work, while others pursue more universal themes and subjects. Marketing and promotional efforts have opened doors to international co-productions such as Misery Harbour (1999). The story of a Norwegian sailor who jumps ship off the coast of Newfoundland, the film is a joint effort by companies in Newfoundland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Production in other areas continues to expand. Newfoundland documentary makers have established an impressive track record. Rapid growth of the television industry has opened new opportunities for the makers of short films and vignettes.

Pigeon Inlet Pigeon Inlet Publicity Photo, ca. 1980.
Pigeon Inlet was a popular Newfoundland television program in the 1980s. (Back row l - r): Ted Hanley, Rosemary Dawson. (Front row l - r): Kevin Noble, Canon Earle.

Reproduced by permission of CBC Television, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Larger Version (32 kb)

The provincial government has invested in the industry through the establishment of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation. With financial programs, tax credits and international lobbying, the Corporation encourages local production and promotes the province as a location for filmmakers from around the world.

The summer of 2000 saw the beginning of work on the most ambitious project ever undertaken in the province: Random Passage, an eight-part television series based on the novels of Newfoundland writer Bernice Morgan. It's another international production, with cast and crew from Newfoundland, Québec and Ireland.

©2000, Jamie Fitzpatrick

Updated February, 2003

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