VIFF 2012 Review – City Lens: 60s Vancouver by Night & Day

I mentioned that I already saw one shorts program at the VIFF. I was lucky to come across a second one. City Lens wasn’t just any shorts program but one done by Vancouver filmmakers in the late 50’s and early 60’s and all were filmed in black and white. It was an interesting look at Vancouver through those years and what they showcased. Here are the films I saw and what I thought of them:

-City Patterns (1962)-This was a ten-minute short that featured images of Vancouver architecture to band music. It’s not necessarily the quality of the short I paid much attention to but of the places that were filmed. I often thought things like “So that’s what it looked back then” or “Does that place still exist?.” It was just a piece-by-piece film but I was amused with it.

-The Outcast (1963)-This was a biographical film of a former criminal trying reintegrate himself back to society. He’s both the subject being filmed and the narrator. We see him in a hotel on Main Street getting ready for the morning. We see him walk from industrial area to industrial area looking for work. We see him have a nervous look as a flashing police car drives by. During the filming shots he narrates who he is and what crimes he committed. He talks of his struggles to find a job with his criminal record. He also talks about his hopes to leave his bad past behind. The short left me wondering about former criminals and their opportunities to reintegrate into society back then. It left me wondering what was it like then? Is it better or worse now?

-PNE Midway (1960)-Now this is something that would definitely take a Vancouverite back in time. The Pacific National Exhibition fifty years ago. It was nice and fun to see how a day in their life of the PNE was like back in 1960 from workers setting things up to the rides and performances happening all day and night to the closing down for just another night. It was really neat and exciting to see. There was one scene I wasn’t happy to see which was the performance of an African American singing group with ‘Ebony Queen’ on the sign. It was a reminder that entertainment was one of the few big opportunities open to blacks back then and even having ‘ebony’ in the name was unpleasant to see. We should remember this was three years before Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

-The Seeds(1959)-This was actually a show meant for CBC Vancouver back then but it never was aired due to what claimed to be disturbing content. The movie starts with a gang of guys who like to control a diner. When the owner tries to stop the leader from harassing a girl, he gets beaten up. We later see the gang hang out in their favorite abandoned building playing cards and drinking straight whisky. At night they like to drive around like maniacs anywhere and everywhere. One day a young woman goes shopping with her young daughter when she caught the attention of the gang. She tries to get away only to be found in a shopping area. S tells the daughter to go home, sensing danger. They all try to chase her into a corner of the parking lot and it ends with her unhurt, unrobbed but scared. I didn’t understand what the point of the show was. Violence? Misogyny? I was left confused. I’m sure I would’ve felt uncomfortable watching that on television. I found it disturbing enough watching it in the theatre.

Overall I thought it was a nice break from the usual film fare. It was also nice to see how Vancouver looked those many years ago. I’ve only lived in Vancouver for 11 years but it was still quite an eye-opener to see how the city looked back then. Also it was unique to see four different types of films: documentary, a drama, a visual diary and a parade of images. This program was brought to us by Videomatica’s Graham X Peat along with some assistance from a Vancouver Archival Film company. It’s very rare to have a chance to see something like that.

City Lens was a welcome break for me at the VIFF. I think there should be something like this every year at the VIFF  that shows images of Vancouver past.


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