Cultural Continuity and Technological Indeterminacy: Itinerant 16mm Film Exhibition in Canada, 1918-1949

Peter Lester (p_lester@alcor.concordia.ca)
Communication Studies, Concordia University
September, 2008
 

Abstract

This thesis charts the parallel historical trajectories of itinerant, non-theatrical forms of film exhibition practice and of 16mm projection technology, throughout the interwar years in Canada and into the post-World War II context. I argue that these two entities – a technology and a practice - developed in symbiosis with one another, and subsequently need to be understood in terms of this relationship. The cultural practice of traveling exhibition has often been considered a relic of the “early cinema” era, the first decade of the medium’s development. It is a practice that was generally assumed to have long since perished in Canada, only to have been resuscitated in 1942 by the National Film Board. This thesis argues instead that itinerant film exhibition never actually ceased to exist in Canada, and that it in fact persisted, with varying degrees of frequency, throughout the interwar period, effectively demonstrating a continuity of screen practice that is generally not widely acknowledged. Concurrent to this, I argue that 16mm technology, although introduced as a medium for amateur employment and for exhibition in the domestic space, quickly charted an additional evolutionary tract, which in turn facilitated these numerous and varied traveling cinema operations. This thesis demonstrates that this was not an historical development that was by any means predetermined, nor was it met with enthusiasm by all sectors of the film industry. Discursive practices circulated within the industry and regulatory actions implemented by various levels of government attempted to both frame and contain the technology and its employment in non-theatrical arenas, but due to this involvement, they also served to legitimize and normalize them. The resulting narrative is at heart, therefore, essentially one of both technological indeterminacy but also of cultural continuity.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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