Protecting Atlantic Canada’s Film Legacy

Rick Roberts as Scottish surveyor John Rae looks out over an Arctic sunset during the filming of Passage Photo by Alex Salter

Rick Roberts as Scottish surveyor John Rae looks out over an Arctic sunset during the filming of Passage
Photo by Alex Salter

Darrell Varga has watched several great Atlantic Canadian films slip into obscurity over the past two decades and he’s not prepared to let it happen any more.

The Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Film and Media Studies at NSCAD University is determined not to let the award-winning documentary Passage (2008) by filmmaker John Walker disappear from the collective memory like the noteworthy Atlantic Canadian films, Mike and Andy Jones’ The Adventures of Faustus Bidgood (1986) and William MacGillivray’s Life Classes (1987), which was shot in part at NSCAD.

To ensure the “masterpiece” lives on, Dr. Varga has written the book Passage to pay homage to it. The film deals with Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition through the Northwest Passage and explores how history is shaped to suit the teller. In another piece, John Walker’s Passage (University of Toronto Press) the professor explores the film in the context of the filmmakers’ rich body of work.
Dr. Varga makes the case for the entire industry in Shooting in the East: Filmmaking in the Canadian Atlantic, a soon to be published book by McGill-Queen’s University Press. The book offers an in-depth analysis of art cinema, narrative and documentary productions in the Atlantic region, focusing extensively on the history of filmmaking cooperatives, such as AFCOOP in Halifax and NIFCO in St. John’s.
“These films are not only important to their time, but important works of cinema anywhere,” says Dr. Varga, who works out of the CineFlux research cluster, NSCAD University’s centre for interdisciplinary research in cinema and media arts supported by the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust.
The centre occupies half of the second floor of NSCAD’s Victorian red-brick Academy building at the foot of Citadel Hill and provides opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration with faculty members from film, sculpture, photography and media arts departments all sharing the same space.
In addition to his scholarship on Atlantic Canadian cinema, Dr. Varga’s participation with CineFlux research cluster has allowed him to return to filmmaking in the last few years. In 2013 his film Fire, Ice and Sky was an extended reflection on the nature of time, art and landscape. He has two more documentaries under production.


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