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.
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
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
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.
Cast of Secret Nation, ca.
(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,
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
Reproduced by permission of the St. John's International
Women's Film and Video Festival Committee.
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
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,
Reproduced by permission of CBC Television, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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
©2000, Jamie Fitzpatrick
Updated February, 2003