Two weeks at Northeast Historic Film

Submitted by beminner

Note: Ryan Shand, Ph.D., is the 2015 O'Farrell Fellow at Northeast Historic Film. He spent the past two weeks with us and sends a brief report! Ryan will be discussing his findings at next summer's film Symposium.

As a researcher at the University of the West of Scotland, most of my time is spent at our campus in Paisley, a large town to the west of Glasgow. However this summer, thanks to Northeast Historic Film, during the second half of August I have had the privilege of spending my time in Bucksport, Maine, endeavoring to find out more about early student filmmaking.
I have been researching amateur cinema in the UK since 2003. Last year, while working on a University of Glasgow project, I visited Northeast Historic Film to find out more about moviemaking by high school students. During this time, I watched a 16mm film called Counterpoint, which was made by undergraduates at the Oxford University in 1929. While the filmmakers involved were just slightly too mature to be included in that research, I was nonetheless intrigued. It was an ambitious production in many respects; in their telling of the romantic tribulations of two young couples, the filmmakers showed a particular flair for artistically motivated camera angles and expressive editing. What is more, the film runs for over an hour - making it feature length - which seemed unusual for amateur film productions, tending as they do to be short films of between five and fifteen minutes. On my return to Scotland, I began wondering if Counterpoint was typical of early amateur productions from the 1920s and whether similar films were being made at other universities. When I saw the call for proposals for the 2015 William O’Farrell Fellowship earlier this year, I put together an application based on this material, and was honoured to find out that I would be this years fellow.
Arriving in Bucksport last Monday I got to work on using the numerous resources available to investigate these lingering questions. It appears that Northeast Historic Film holds the only print of Counterpoint in existence. Why this film, made in England over eighty years ago, found its way into an archive in Maine can be explained by tracing the life journey of its director, Roy Lockwood. Following a screening of Counterpoint in 1930, he found employment in the British film industry as an editor and assistant director, before being promoted to the directors’ chair, and subsequently moving to the United States. In his leisure time, Lockwood was also an avid sailor, so he retired to Yarmouth, Maine, next to the ocean. Counterpoint was donated to Northeast Historic Film during this time, where it is preserved alongside thousands of locally produced films and videos. However, the Northeast Historic Film collection is not only comprised of films; they have a wide range of books and magazines on the international history of cinema and television. By searching through early issues of Amateur Movie Maker (1926-53) and other journals published during the 1920s and 30s, it has been possible to piece together a basic chronology of film production on university campuses. It has become clear that these magazines were aware of developments on both sides of the Atlantic, as they acknowledged that the Cambridge University Film Club was founded in 1922, making it a pioneering early movie club, with American colleges not far behind. During this initial search I have found more evidence of early cine club activity than expected. Counterpoint was therefore by no means an isolated example of student film production and the last two weeks have been invaluable, enabling me the time to compile a filmography listing other films that were made by students at the beginnings of the organized amateur film movement.
On my return to the UK, I plan to visit the University of Oxford, and possibly the British Film Institute Library, to find supplementary information on Counterpoint, specifically its production and exhibition history. Additionally, enquiries will be made to relevant university archives to establish if prints of the films identified can be located in public archives. Unexpectedly, at the end of these two weeks it feels like this is just the beginning, rather than the end, of this project. Next summer, I will return to Bucksport to report my early conclusions to other attendees of the annual Northeast Historic Film symposium.