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Super 8 Filmmaker John Porter, Toronto, Canada

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CineZine > Histories > The Funnel Film Centre - Canadian Super 8 Distribution Centre

A History of 8mm and Super 8 Film in Toronto
by John Porter (updated in 2009)
first published in Pop Off: The Regular 8 Faction, Toronto, 1998
by YYZ Artists' Outlet ("Exhibition Books") ISBN: 0-920397-19.0

Maya Deren made public visits to the Toronto Film Society in 1950 and 1951, including conducting a two-week, 16mm production workshop resulting in her little-known film Ensemble for Somnambulists (full story). After that, several young Toronto painters, mostly from the Ontario College of Art (OCA), began exploring personal or "poetic" 16mm filmmaking. Gordon Rayner was the first of them to make an 8mm film, Jekyll and Hyde, in 1958. Others among them, Robert Cowan and Joyce Wieland, were living in Manhattan and making 8mm films in the early 1960s. Cowan, who followed Deren to New York, worked with the Kuchar Brothers on some of their early 8mm films, and it was he who introduced them to the New York "underground" film community. A 1964 public screening of Toronto artists' films at the privately owned Isaacs Gallery, 832 Yonge St., Toronto, included three 8mm sound films by Cowan, Wieland and Michael Snow. But they all soon switched permanently to 16mm filmmaking.

Kodak introduced super 8 film in 1965, then super 8 sound film in 1975. In 1975, many young artists, again at OCA, were holding super 8 parties which led to the publicly-funded, annual Toronto Super 8 Film Festival (1976-1983) held first at OCA, 100 McCaul St., and Cinema Lumiere, 290 College St.. It joined an international network of super 8 festivals, so super 8 people came from around the world. Lenny Lipton projected his 3D super 8 films. Many local films were shown, but these festivals were dominated by "industry-envy" films.

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Some of those OCA artists joined the radical and seminal, publicly-funded, artist-run centre The Kensington Arts Association (KAA), later named the Centre for Experimental Arts and Communication (CEAC) (1973-1978). In 1974 the KAA, at 4 Kensington Ave., showed a 20-minute "standard" 8mm film by local artist Darryl Tonkin, and in 1975 it began showing 16mm, 8mm and super 8 films regularly. The CEAC, at 15 Duncan St., helped to found the short-lived Canadian Super 8 Distribution Centre in 1976, which in turn published a Directory in 1977 with 118 super 8 films, some 8mm films, and some videos, by 50 Canadian artists.

The CEAC's regular Super 8 Open Screenings and other film screenings led to their founding of The Funnel Experimental Film Theatre (1977-1989), in their basement on Duncan St. which they had previously used for their punk music club the Crash 'n' Burn. One co-founder of the Super 8 Festival, the Super 8 Distribution Centre and The Funnel was filmmaker Ross McLaren. He also taught filmmaking at OCA until 1990, inspiring many interesting super 8 filmmakers who became associated with The Funnel.

In 1978 the CEAC was "banned in Canada" so The Funnel moved independently to 507 King St. East where its 30 members (bios & filmos) built a state-of-the-art 100-seat cinema (photo) with raked, fixed theatre seats, a projection booth/sound recording studio, art gallery, darkroom, library and office. Eventually with public funding, it provided 16mm, 8mm and super 8, film production, distribution and exhibition facilities, for personal film artists only.

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The Funnel hosted 60 events per year, with many legendary "avant-garde" filmmakers visiting from around the world, including a 5-night performance by Jack Smith.
Many of them said that it had the best-quality super 8 projection they had seen.
It's two distribution catalogues in 1984 and 1987 listed 320 films and other media, almost half of them on super 8, by 80 artists. It inspired an unequalled amount of super 8 filmmaking in Toronto.

Women and gays particularly were drawn to super 8 filmmaking, such as the significant Fifth Column and J.D.s community which included Kathleen Pirrie Adams, GB Jones, Caroline Azar, Bruce LaBruce, Candy, and Midi Onodera. LaBruce said "super 8 is a gay format".

But The Funnel was long a victim of the Ontario Film Classification Act. Partly because of that, it suffered a political split in 1986, then the remaining members made an ill-timed move to 11 Soho St. in 1987. Public funding was reduced, forcing them to dismantle their newly-built theatre a year later, but the group held rare screenings at OCA and The Euclid Theatre until 1989. Its collapse left a vacuum in Toronto still felt today. All of its equipment, and some original films, disappeared, and many of Toronto's finest small-format filmmakers, such as Jim Anderson, Sharon Cook, Fast Wurms, and Villem Teder, stopped making films.

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Since 1989 the publicly-funded, artist-run, Pleasure Dome Artists' Film Exhibition Group has continued Funnel-style screenings, but only 15-20 per year, and in rented venues. Since 1991 Martin Heath's CineCycle has provided a Funnel-style space for rent, but with no public funding he can do little of his own programming. CineCycle has Toronto's first and only Xenon-lamp 8mm projector, built by local filmmaker Petra Chevrier.

The publicly-funded, artist-run Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC), since 1967, refused to handle 8mm and super 8 until 1989, and still handles very little of it. This attitude has been prevalent at most publicly-funded film organizations in Toronto.

Since the 1970s the Student Council-run production co-op Hart House Film Board at the University of Toronto has held many internal screenings which, while hard to find, have introduced significant 8mm filmmakers, such as Marnie Parrell, Linda Feesey, and John Kneller, all circa1990.

The publicly-funded, artist-run film production co-op L.I.F.T., since 1980, has some small-format equipment, but used mainly in the pre-production of 16mm films or videos, and its public screenings rarely include small formats. In 1991 LIFT and CFMDC organized two high-profile super 8 group screenings titled Token & Taboo at The Rivoli, 332 Queen St. W.. Since 1988 many publicly-funded, "alternative" annual film festivals have emerged in Toronto but they do not show small-format film. The first, and the exception, the Images Festival programmed only six super 8 films in its first ten years.

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Since the 1970s the publicly-funded, artist-run galleries A Space and YYZ Artists' Outlet have shown many 16mm films and some small-format films. In 1996 YYZ hosted a five-week exhibit of John Porter's original super 8 sound film series Toy Catalogue (1987-1996, 75 minutes), and Porter was resident projectionist. In 1998 YYZ hosted Pop Off: The Regular 8 Faction, a seven-week group exhibit of projected prints of 8mm films by local artists David Anderson, Robert Cowan, Linda Feesey, John Kneller, Keith Lock (Lock Kei Kong), D.B. Maltby, Marnie Parrell and Joyce Wieland. Pop Off included a published booklet (click on EXHIBITION BOOKS) with John Porter's hand-drawn time-chart and this History of 8mm & Super 8 in Toronto. Both of these YYZ exhibits were curated by Milada Kovacova.

They were part of a revival of small-format film in the late 1990s. The publicly-funded, Ontario Film Theatre / Cinematheque Ontario, showing 16mm films regularly since 1969, began for the first time showing some small-format films, but only for a brief period.
In 1997 Jane Farrow and Allyson Mitchell commissioned 40 first-time filmmakers to each make a new super 8 film, all shown at one big screening - Three Minute Rock Star, at the 360 Club, 326 Queen St. W.. That inspired Laura Cowell and Kelly O'Brien to found the publicly-funded, annual Splice This! Super 8 Festival in Toronto (1998-2006). After 9 years, it ran longer than the original Toronto Super 8 Film Festival.

More recently, the experimental film and video Images Festival, which showed very few small-format films since it began in 1989, had full Super 8 Late programmes in 2005 and 2006. One of the Super 8 Late organizers - Images Executive Director Scott Berry, went on to co-found the annual the 8 fest in 2008.

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Funnel Biographies & Filmographies
by John Porter 1982

The Funnel's First Pamphlet, 1982

The Funnel's First Catalogue 1984
62 Pages! 50 Filmmakers! 200 Films & Related Work!
Artists A-J, Artists L-W,
Appendix (Filmography / Bibliography / Screenings).

The Funnel Catalogue Supplement 1987
44 Pages! 30 Filmmakers! 120 Films & Related Work!
Introduction; Index; Artists A-J; Artists L-Y;
Alphabetical Film Listing; Funnel Publications;
Appendix (Filmography / Bibliography / Screenings).

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Coming - Toronto Artists Discovering Film 1950-1970!