Canada's First Amateur Feature-Length Film: A Race for Ties
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The Lady Lumberjack: An Annotated Collection of Dorothea Mitchell's Writings
The following is a transcript of an interview conducted in 1963 by Harold Harcourt with Dorothea Mitchell describing her experience making A Race for Ties.
A RACE FOR TIES
by Dorothea Mitchell
It all started when one man conceived the idea of attempting something that no one else (in his community, at any rate,) had thought of doing. Fred Cooper, a business friend of mine, purchased a 16mm amateur movie-camera – something of a novelty 35 years ago! – to accompany him and his wife on a trip to England. After their return, they naturally threw a big party and showed the results to friends and employees. From this came requests to give a public showing in aid of charity.
However, feeling that his pictures were too personal, Cooper asked me, a bit of a camera fiend myself, (but of the still variety) if we could not make a picture. It transpired that many published movie scripts intended for amateur production were altogether too brief for fund-raising purposes. Then he proposed that I write a story. This was in mid-February 1929.
Well, I’d never studied scenario writing, tho’ I had read several articles on the subject in Movie magazines. I said I’d try. "the rough draft was ready in a week’s time. It was of the comedy-drama type, the plot based on an experience of my own when in the timber business some years previously – in the Lakehead District. The man we selected to direct, Harold Harcourt, had at one time lived in Hollywood, where he was technical advisor on Army matters, so he had at least watched directors at work.
We three - cameraman, director and I – formed the Amateur Cinema Society of Thunder Bay, calling a meeting for the 1st of March, to which prospective performers were invited, and of course enrolled as members, each paying a fee of $1 per month, to help with initial expenses. Because I had written the story, and knew the theatrical talent available, I had been permitted to select the cast. All were experienced with the exception of the crooked timber-dealer, Cheetum, (with apologies to Dickens), chosen for the occasion; and "Laddie." This dog was truly a find; one might almost call him a "natural" He had never seen any of us previously, yet behaved as though he belonged to any member of the cast to whom he was assigned. There were, of course a couple of instances where strategy was essential. Leaving the office building, with message tied to his collar, his boss says "Home!" For this realistic dash up the street, Laddie’s real owner (a lad of 17) whistled him from an un-seen doorway at a distance. The same tactics sparked his racing out on the country road.