Letter from Rick Hancox to George Semsel

December 22, 1969



Dear George,

I just got the word from John Smith last week that you will be able to make the northern pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island around the end of January. You couldn’t arrive at a better time. Twenty-five members of the brand new UPEI Film Workshop will be in the midst of shooting their major 8mm projects, I will be editing a 16mm film which I intend to shoot over the holidays, and will be planning a second for production in February. Also the UPEI film society will be screening the following films January 25: Buffalo Airport Visions (Peter Rowe-Toronto), Maltese Cross Movement (Keewatin Dewdney-London, Ontario), Schmmerguntz (Gunvor Nelson), Match Girl (Andrew Meyer) and Oh Dem Watermelons (Robert Nelson).


The above we intend to bill as “UNDERGROUND FILM NITE”!!!!

The pint is, it will get this campus of card-playing, beer-barfing mental lightweights into the theatre. If you can be prepared to give a special introduction to the films Jan. 25 (Sunday), give a guest lecture (informal) on film (choose your own topic), and perhaps mingle with our workshop members, the film society and/or the Dean’s budget will provide you with, not only your round-trip and incidental expenses, but a considerable retainer of at least $100 over and above spending money. If you could bring Rosemary along it would be great. While your expenses for her would not be met by the film society, I don’t think, (the Students Union gives final approval on all expenditures), we will put up both of you (or just yourself-whatever the case) in the special guest suite in Montgomery Hall, where you would also be able to get all your meals (free of course).


Oh what the FRIG am I talking about? Rosemary just had a baby! I suppose it would be pretty difficult for her to come anyway! Well anyway you know we’d all like to see both of you. Whatever you decide.


Incredibly things have really turned out well regarding film-on-campus this year. The film society so far has been a resounding success (I’ve included some articles), the workshop is gaining tremendous momentum and George Welsh, Murray Stevenson, John Smith, the Students Union, the campus cops-everybody has been extremely co-operative. The Film Society, with its special guests, prize-winning films, its emphasis on Canadian content, and its unique free admission to all students, has gained much local, and even some national publicity. I would say by the end of next term of Film Society will have proved to be one of the best in Canada. While the Workshop is working primarily in 8mm and super-8, we do plan a 16mm class project by the end of the year. Also Brian Pollard, Barry Burley, myself, and perhaps another will have sufficient means to work in 16mm. I hope to produce three 16mm films-one 9 mins B_+W, one 20 mins. B+W, and one 3-4 mins, Colour, as well as a video-tape production as part of my Communication Arts (Education Dept.) course. All other 16mm and 8mm workshop projects can proceed on a 2:1 ratio and come up with a ten minute film. We cannot afford sound striping, so all 8mm sound will have to be on separate tape. For 16mm, we will switch the sound reader over to magnetic and cut up to four tracks for mix in Montreal. (How do you indicate sound levels on mag track for a mix? Am I correct in assuming fades are indicated in the same manner as on workprints?)


We have made some new purchases and acquisitions regarding equipment: a new $140 Super-8 GAF Anscomatic with 5:1 power zoom and manual exposure override, a Philips tape recorder and RCA Victor projector (from George Welsh), a good light meter, Bolex non-reflex zoom and tripod (on loan from the Athletic Dept.), a Lowell Quartz lamp and stand, and a combination 8-super-8-16mm splicer. Besides my editor, David Aurandt’s father is providing us with another editor, projector, screen and 8mm camera. All together 5 8mm and super-8mm cameras are on loan to the Workshop. What we lack, of course, is a qualified professor to pull us all together and give us a little more than “how to do this and how to do that,” which is all I can provide the students. Brian Pollard and Susan Sherwood have been wonderful in their organizational capacities. But your arrival on campus George, will certainly be the highlight of our workshop next term—something we will all really look forward to. I sincerely hope we can keep you around here for at least a week—as long as Larry’s visit last year, anyway.


Now to getting around to answering your last letter (Nov. 21), which was utterly fantastic. I am interested to know, naturally, what reasons John Smith gave you for not returning to teach in P.E.I. If you care to tell me I will keep it confidential. If I don’t get into grad. school next year, and if I don’t get financial assistance, which is entirely possible, I would definitely jump at the chance to assist you in an instructor-teacher capacity at any University that hires you. I am convinced I can teach, instruct and assist students; organize and operate film screenings, film societies, workshop, etc. and administer budgets or parts of budgets effectively and expediently. The only thing I feel shaky on is film history and aesthetics, something of what I have little more than subjective, personal opinions, or no knowledge whatsoever. I certainly can, and will, learn somehow. Do you honestly I could stand a chance in getting on the bottom rung of any faculty? Please let me know your thoughts.


The question of whether to choose Canada or the U.S. also concerns me greatly. I completely agree that the U.S. is depressing and upsetting, and that there is a more relaxed (maybe even more creative) atmosphere in Canada… there are more card-playing, beer-barfing mental lightweights per capita in Canada. Canada, as you know, is more Victorian, more Puritanical, more old-fashioned, more expensive, more boring, more hypocritical, more conservative, and at the same time more liberal (as you and I understand the term) than the U.S. To bring this more into focus, let’s look at film in Canada. There is none. Compared to any other country in the world, there IS none. We have the closed shop CBC on the one hand, and the stifled National Film Board on the other (which, incidentally, is in its final death throes). Scattered here and there are a few small film studios working exclusively in commercials, industrials and boring documentaries. Some of them produce the occasional, equally boring T.V. drama. McLaren is in poor health and some say has produced his last film. The $10,000 Canadian Film Development Corporation has been called a farce by the Canadian Society of Cinematographers. The Canadian Film Institute is not reaching the public, and is little more than a musty library of ignored films. Theatrical distribution, and certainly commercial exhibition of Canadian-made films is virtually impossible. No matter HOW much money the government pumps into independent filmmaking (a sadly insignificant amount), no matter HOW excellent a film is produced, it is either censored, banned, or laughed at by commercial distributors and exhibitors as a bad financial risk-simply because it is Canadian. AND THE REAL TRAGEDY IS THEY’RE RIGHT. Canadians simply are turned off by Canadian content, except in the most exceptional cases where it has been an international success.


The Canadian public is disgustingly apathetic when it comes to Canadian films. As long as they have their Hillbillies in a Haunted House, their Graduates, their Funny Girls, their drive-ins, and their midnight horroramas, they’re happy. Finally the Universities are ten years behind the times in implementing communications and creative arts courses in their curricula.


THAT, to me, is more depressing than al the Spiro Agnews put together. At least Spiro Agnew is not a hypocrite. At least in the U.S. you can single out the enemy. But in Canada you’re fighting a huge apathetic masse-so silent a majority, yet so effective-like a great sack of rotting potatoes ever on your shoulders at best, and the curse of the albatross at worst.


What a challenge.


If I stay here it will be to meet that challenge, in whole or in part.


At the tender age of 23, I have found myself forced, already, onto the defensive. Unconsciously I have backed up against a wall-a wall, unfortunately, protecting my creativity. And my time is spent repairing the wall, instead of tearing it down. In Canada, before you get TO your art, you have to find a PLACE for it. If I go on at my present rate, I will spend all my time fighting on the front and never make a film. In Canada you defend film; in the U.S., you make them. Whether you want to or not, George, as you have already experienced to a certain extent, you find yourself defending the Cinema. And I am sad to say it’s either defend them or make them.


I hope I am wrong.


I will not get a chance to respond to your “capsules,” except to say that it convinced me, finally that sincerity is a minor problem. Please write more along these lines. (Sir, can you tell me, what is art?) Don’t laugh-try to answer it.


If I do get into grad. school-yes, I would like to work on something with you next summer. Tell me more. I’m sorry I cannot come down for Christmas. Maybe in the spring. Give my love to Rosemary, Danny and Thaddeus. Say hello to all. Please write sooner than I did. Merry Christmas.       


Rick Hancox