Film, Video, and New Media

Since the 1920s, Saskatchewan people have been producing moving images; and while that movement began with documentaries, the field has become rich and diversified with today's award-winning practitioners working across documentary, art and experimental, feature fiction, and new media forms.

The most important figure in Saskatchewan's early film history was Dick Bird. His films, Nation Building in Saskatchewan: The Ukrainians (1920) and This Generation: A Prairie Romance (1932), depict respectively the history of eastern European immigration to the prairies and the importance of education and technology to the farm economy. Bird also produced what is considered Canada's first musical, Youth Marches On (1937). When the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was established in 1939, two Saskatchewan filmmakers, Evelyn Spice Cherry, a director, writer and producer, and her husband, cinematographer Lawrence Cherry, played a leading role. During their careers, they produced over 100 documentary films on agricultural and environmental themes. The most important of these is By Their Own Strength (1940), about the rise of the co-operative farm movement. The Cherrys were also inspirational in the formation of the Yorkton Film Council (established in 1947) and the distribution circuits that brought films to rural areas; this activity was important in developing a film culture in Saskatchewan, and led to the creation in 1950 of the Yorkton Short Film Festival (see Yorkton Short Film & Video Festival) - the first film festival in Canada and the longest running film festival in North America.

When the NFB tried to expand beyond the genres of documentary and animation to produce fiction features in the early 1960s, one of its first efforts was The Drylanders (1964), a film that told the story of two generations of settlers in southwestern Saskatchewan. However, unlike the cases of Manitoba and Alberta, the NFB did not establish an office to encourage filmmaking in this province. A film production program was nevertheless set up at the University of Regina in the early 1970s, and what began as a handful of courses has grown into a full-fledged university program.

Several feature films were made in Saskatchewan in the 1970s and early 1980s, including The Hounds of Notre Dame, a story about Père Athol Murray and his work at the College of Notre Dame in Wilcox in the 1930s. However, the filming of Who Has Seen The Wind in 1977 in Arcola was a critical moment in the development of Saskatchewan's film industry. Jean Oser, an internationally known film editor who was teaching at the University of Regina, convinced the film's director, Canadian auteur Allan King, to hire six of his students for the film's crew. Inspired by their experience, they established what became the Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative in Regina in 1977. The Filmpool has become central in the creation of the province's independent film scene. Filmpool members have since produced some of the province's most critically successful features, including Wheat Soup (1987) and Solitude (2000), as well as experimental films, shorts, and documentaries that have won international awards.

With the creation of SaskFilm in 1989, a commercial industry began to take shape in Saskatchewan. Over forty feature-length dramas and television movies have been produced in the last decade, including Paris or Somewhere (1993), Conquest (1997), Dinosaur Hunter (1999), and Falling Angels (2002), along with internationally distributed children's television series such as International Story Studio and Prairie Berry Pie. With the opening of the new Canada Saskatchewan Production Studios in Regina in 2002, more films and television series are in development. There are now thirty companies and independent producers operating in the province. Six of these are the most prolific: Regina-based Cooper Rock Productions, Minds Eye Pictures, Partners in Motion, and West Wind Pictures; and Saskatoon's Edge Entertainment. Documentarists continue to make their mark, winning prestigious Gemini (They Live to Polka in 2001) and Emmy (13 Seconds: The Kent State Shootings in 2002) awards. Meanwhile, Aboriginal communities are beginning to produce important film and television work such as the animated film Christmas at Wapos Bay (2002) and the television series Moccasin Flats (2003).

Since 1992, the economic impact of the film, television and new media sector in Saskatchewan has increased dramatically, from $2.5 million to $60 million, making it one of the province's strongest growing industries and one of its most important resources for promoting its cultural identity.

Christine Ramsay

Further Reading

Horne, G. 1997. “Interpreting Prairie Cinema,” Prairie Forum 22 (1): 135-49; Morris, P. 1978. Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema 1895-1939. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press; Petty, Sheila. 1998. (Re)Positioning the Unstable Frame: Early Cinematic Visions of the Canadian Prairies. Saskatoon: Mendel Art Gallery; Wise, W. (ed.). 2001. Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.