16mm Film Library – A Closer Look

Did you know that CineVic has a collection of over 200 movie titles on 16mm celluloid film, donated to us over the past 30+ years from the NFB, universities, libraries, and filmmakers?

Over the past two years, CineVic member and film enthusiast Bill Noble undertook the massive project of re-cataloguing, cleaning, culling, and labeling our film library. He also wrote an article on his experience and findings, and edited a highlight reel showcasing some of the films in our collection -- enjoy!

The CineVic 16mm Film Collection
by Bill Noble

Last year I answered a personal calling to screen nearly four hundred 16mm films tucked away on the shelves at CineVic. I love watching old films and the older the better. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of loading a reel of film onto a projector.   

So, with a spirit of respect for filmmakers who had gone before me, each reel was lovingly threaded onto the CineVic projector with open minded enquiry. Part of my mission was to assess each film’s print quality and relevance to contemporary audiences. I could only guess at what lay waiting to be revealed. Scotch tape splices? Reels that had been rewound upside down and backwards? You bet! Short or missing leader, bad splices and torn films were repaired. In an attempt to prevent further print degradation molecular sieves (desiccant packs) were placed inside film cans.

Despite my love of film, the first few reels reaffirmed why celluloid’s best-before date rightfully expired long ago. As a physical medium born from photochemical processes many older film prints display colour and optical sound quality degradation. To the chagrin of film loyalists, celluloid was justifiably trumped by the digital epoch. It’s curious that we continue to use the term “film” when recording on our cell phones. Perhaps it is our way of honouring an art form in which achievement is so hard won.

CineVic’s film collection originated through donations from local educational audio-visual departments and private donations. There is a wide variety of subjects and production values.

The collection is grouped into seven colour coded categories. Each film has a colour numbered label to make it easy to find a film. Click the links below to see a list of films in each category:

CineVic Member Films >>

Gilbert Taggart and Walt Disney >>

National Film Board (NFB) >>

Classics & Film History >>

Features & Dramatic >>

West Coast & Canadiana >>

Miscellaneous (Films of Interest) >>

Titles in each category are listed alphabetically along with basic production details including producer, copyright year, print image/sound quality and a brief description of the storyline. Through the contemporary lens many of the works are a film buffs delight although print quality varies from excellent to poor. But every category has its gems. Keep in mind that many of these films are fifty years old but anything is possible with colour correction!

Many of CineVic’s film collection can be found online yet there are a number of films that would be difficult to find anywhere else. Evolution of the Motion Picture (1950) and Film Firsts (1960) contain some great footage from the dawn of cinema.

The National Film Board animated films Every Dog’s Guide to Complete Home Safety, The Cat Came Back, The Big Snit and Flashpoint define a golden era in NFB animation. All of the film’s stories are clever, hilarious and well worth a view. Historical NFB productions like Greenpeace: Voyage to Save the Whales (featuring David Attenborough) and Oscar nominated/1980 Genie Award Winner Nails by renowned Canadian director Phillip Borsos do not disappoint.

The collection contains trend setting films from the seventies such as Academy Award Winner If You Love This Planet in which Dr. Helen Caldicott points out the realities of nuclear war. On the brighter side, there’s Diet For A Small Planet based on the popular book that was first to point out the environmental impact of meat production. The book and film kick started a North American diet revolution.  

The Classics category highlights include early twentieth century films such as Nanook Of The North (1922) and In The Land Of The War Canoe. There are more than a few early silent classics in beautiful black and white.

To my pleasant surprise a few anomalies surfaced. For example there are two Soviet propaganda reels from the early 1950’s (in Russian) about state sponsored achievements in industry. These films contain astounding images of early 20th century Siberian oil field workers and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Another strange surprise is a reel of 1950’s m.o.s. colour footage from somebody’s (?) cruise ship vacation down the coast to Catalina, California. Stranger still, is a reel of unedited colour footage of the HMS Queen Mary being towed to its final resting place in Long Beach, California. Go figure.

The CineVic Film Collection is a diamond in the rough for CineVic members and anyone who considers themselves a cinephile. The collection contains some remarkable imagery from the past and original storytelling from around the world. 🎬

Bill Noble began working in film at age 18 for the NFB and provincial tourism shorts as a camera assistant. He then worked in commercial live television (CBC/Canwest) and educational television (UBC/Knowledge Network), started a home-based adventure documentary production company, did freelance film camera for CTV's Mt. Everest "Climb for Hope" in Nepal/Tibet, and worked as cameraman for Discovery Channel programming in Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Switzerland and other remote mountain locations in Western Canada. He has earned awards from Banff International Mountain Film Festival, New York International Mountain Film Festival and Canadian Film and Television Institute (now defunct), and was Emmy nominated for work with Discovery, and has served as Banff International Film Festival judge. Bill has a love of the moving image, good editing and great storytelling. He is presently in pre-production for a feature about the Squamish Chief.

CineVic acknowledges and respects the long and ongoing history of the Lək̓ʷəŋən-speaking people, now known as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, as well as the W̱SÁNEĆ First Nation, on whose traditional and unceded territory we carry out our activities.

CineVic gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance and support of Canada Council for the Arts, Province of British Columbia, British Columbia Arts Council, and the CRD Arts Service.

Published 2023-09-14