The Fatal Flower Project
Bringing Back A Piece Of Canada's Filmmaking Heritage:
The Fatal Flower Project is a broad-spectrum effort to preserve and enhance Canada's film history. The project is a co-operative effort by a group of cinema enthusiasts to finish a silent film, produce a video package of the most significant collection of amateur films made in Canada before the advent of sound, republish a book written by the first female independent filmmaker in Canada, and create an interactive educational package that ties everything together. The Fatal Flower Project is both historical and pedagogical.
The Fatal Flower Project gets its name from a film shot in 1930 by the Port Arthur Amateur Cinema Society, the same people who gave Canada its first amateur feature-length film, A Race for Ties. The Fatal Flower was the third film made by the group, but the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s bankrupted the company before the film could go into post-production. The result is approximately 45 minutes of unedited, but usable film in near perfect condition. In order to complete The Fatal Flower the movie-makers had to gather the footage that survived, edit it into a coherent narrative, create dialogue cards and insert them into the film, compose a musical score that was historically appropriate, and flesh out as far as possible the story of the Port Arthur Amateur Cinema Society.
All three of the Port Arthur Cinema Society's films were written by Dorothea Mitchell, a woman who was born in England, raised in India, immigrated to Canada, and in 1907 became the first single woman granted a homestead in Ontario. Mitchell was a remarkable woman who was meticulous about keeping her personal papers. These papers, her photographs and newspaper articles about her form another component of The Fatal Flower Project. By using the dialogue written for the first films and after careful study of the documents that reveal her public and private life, the members of The Fatal Flower Project have attempted to remain true to Dorothea Mitchell's style. Similarly, The Fatal Flower Project sought to compose music, draw and film title cards and produce period posters for the film. Every aspect of the finishing of The Fatal Flower has been as historically accurate as possible.
The completion of The Fatal Flower was the first step in resurrecting and preserving the memory of the Port Arthur Amateur Cinema Society. The second part of the project was to package all of the films made by the Port Arthur Cinema Society to make it available to the general public. The first two films produced by the group were donated to Library and Archives Canada where they have since been restored and copied from 16mm to 35mm. These films are recognized by Library and Archives Canada as comprising one of the most historically significant stories of Canadian production of the period. Their historical significance and value is enhanced by the quantity and quality of the materials held by Library and Archives Canada. A Race for Ties was last shown in public in 1970, and both SleepInn Beauty and The Fatal Flower have never been seen. Therefore, The Fatal Flower Project has provided an original musical score for each of the films and reproduced them in VHS and DVD format so that they will be accessible. The Fatal Flower Project has the exclusive rights to all of the materials produced by the Port Arthur Amateur Cinema Society and has already obtained Beta masters from Library and Archives Canada. The objective is to make the films available for both education and entertainment.
Another objective of The Fatal Flower Project was to reprint Dorothea Mitchell's Lady Lumberjack with the addition of a biographical and historical introduction and an appendix containing materials illustrating how Dorothea Mitchell adapted a story from Lady Lumberjack into the screenplay for A Race for Ties. Dorothea Mitchell was Canada's first independent female filmmaker and her life is an inspiring tale. Lady Lumberjack was published in 1968 and has never been reprinted. With the completion of the first two parts of The Fatal Flower Project, Lady Lumberjack will enjoy a rebirth as a backdrop to the films written by Dorothea Mitchell and produced by the Port Arthur Amateur Cinema Society. The Lady Lumberjack: An Annotated Collection of Dorothea Mitchell's Writings will be published in mid-October 2004 by the Centre for Northern Studies at Lakehead University.
The Fatal Flower Project also involves the production of a documentary film about Dorothea Mitchell and the people who finished her last film. This hour long documentary was directed and edited by award winning filmmaker, Kelly Saxberg. Kelly’s “Letters from Karelia,” was recently nominated for a Gemini Award for Best History Documentary and she has directed and/or edited several other historical documentaries. “Dorothea Mitchell: A Reel Pioneer” is a historical documentary with a twist. This is a story about Dorothea Mitchell’s legacy to Canadian filmmaking and about the efforts of a group of local people who decided to pick up where Dorothea left off, finishing a silent film, with no script or music and in the spirit of the period when it was shot. Dorothea died in 1976 at the age of 99, but she left a series of interviews and short stories that form the basis of the research for the finishing of “The Fatal Flower.” With an eye for the historical significance of Dorothea’s story and the skills to produce an entertaining and informative film, Kelly Saxberg tells the story of how “The Fatal Flower” was shot in 1930 and finished 75 years later. She makes use of Dorothea’s amazing photograph collection, her three silent feature films, and archival footage from the period. Reenactments of Dorothea’s life were shot on 16mm film and the struggle to finish the fatal flower documented on DV over a three-year period.
Finally, The Fatal Flower Project has developed this educational web site to accompany the films and the book. The Fatal Flower Project takes advantage of the latest technology to provide teachers at the junior high, senior high and university level with the tools to uncover Canada's filmmaking past.