Cortes Island will be holding its very own film festival in Mansons Hall on Sunday, July 17, 2022.  George Sirk produced Cortes Cinema’s films, all but one of which was originally shown at either Mansons or Gorge Halls during the 1970s and early 80’s. The exception is a video of Ann Mortifee’s performance at Manson’s Hall on October 23, 1981. This has not previously been shown in public. Doug McCaffry came up with the idea of holding a film festival, when he was digitalising Sirk’s films for the Cortes Island Museum.

“Once he saw the films, he was so tickled by them he said, ‘You got to have a film festival!’” exclaimed Sirk.

“I thought, ‘okay, that’d be interesting. A film festival with only one film producer: myself, right, one producer.’ So I thought, ‘Well, why not?’

They approached the Cortes Island Museum, which is now hosting and promoting the festival.

There will be an intermission, with popcorn, cake and Becca’s Beans coffee.

Ken Hansen’s bulldozer from Linnaea’s ‘Land for Stewardship’

One of the documentaries shows Linnaea Farm just after Ken and Hazel Hanson sold it in 1981.

“I think people will find it very fascinating to see what Linnaea looked like 40 years ago. We used to have a dairy there. The Hanson’s sold raw milk for many years, probably 20 years. I don’t know how many years.  They delivered it on the island, I think it was three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” said Sirk.

The provincial government stepped in after Hansens left, and shut down the dairy. They would not allow any more sales of raw milk.

The film includes aerial footage shot from Barry Miles’ floatplane.

The other documentary being shown at the festival was made during a trip  Isolde Ruthenberg and Sirk made to Papua New Guinea that same year.

“In Australia you might meet the odd person that says I’ve been to Papua New Guinea. Well, how about I’ve been to Papua New Guinea twice. This is the world’s second largest island. 40% of the world’s languages are on that island. 600 different languages. People have been there for approximately 50,000 years.”

Public transportation in Papua New Guinea (1981) – From ‘Modern Times Too’

He called the documentary ‘Modern Times Too,’ in response to those who were labelling Papua New Guinea ‘primitive’ at that time.

Most Cortes Cinema films were ‘mad cap’ shorts showcasing the rich heritage of Island life during that era.

“I didn’t create all the plots myself. I had other friends: Jim Palmer, Pierre DeTrey, even Al Murray. We would collaborate in creating the plot and it was so much fun. One film led to another,” said Sirk. “There are people around who remember these films because they really stuck in their memory. They were so silly, and so wonderful.”

He captured a cross section of Cortes Island society, both hippies and ‘old timers.’

“A lot of the people in the festival have passed away. These might be some of the only shots we have of them in motion,” said Sirk.

George Sirk in ‘Chicken Soup’

His first film, ‘Chicken Soup,’ shows the influence of early stars Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. This was also a silent film and made in the era when most Cortesians took baths in their backyards.

“I proceeded to have a bath in my graduation suit from high school, and I make chicken soup in the bathtub. I finish the film off by having a bowl of that soup.”

His sister Anna filmed that episode, but if you watch George’s mouth closely you will see it form the word ‘cut’ at the end.

One of the other shorts asks the question. ’Where does the Lone Ranger take his garbage?’ (‘To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump.’)

The late Al Murray, who Sirk describes as ‘a genuinely funny man,’ played the Lone Ranger in this film. He is shown riding a hobby horse in the still at the top of this page.

“I’m not gonna give you the plot of this film, but he’s fabulous in this thing.  A lot of people don’t realize that we used to have a dump here. You took your stuff, threw it all in your truck, or your car. You went to the dump, same location where the Recycling Centre is now,” said Sirk.

Everyone used to throw their garbage out of the backs their vehicles and it tumbled down the hill.

“The ravens all enjoyed whatever you threw down there: beds, garbage, food or everything. That was our dump. It inspired us to make this great film, it was one of my favourites. Back then we had gravel roads, so there’s the history that has been captured by Cortes Cinema.”

A hunting trip – from ‘Modern Times Too.

The cost of editing film was so high in the 1970s that Sirk shot all of his films sequentially, much as Charlie Chaplin’s films had been made. The great comic had rehearsed each scene until it was perfect, then filmed it and went on to the next scene.

“I was very much inspired by this because I only had four minutes of film and I certainly wasn’t going to have to edit, or take it again. My films were all sequential. I would shoot a scene and then would just go right to the next scene and shoot that and so forth till the four minutes were up. Every once in a while I did have to cut something, but very, very rarely. So that formed the basis to the shorts that I made.”

Sirk and the museum have been talking about digitalizing the collection for two or three years, but the cost seemed prohibitive until Doug and Melanie McCaffry purchased Becca’s Beans coffee.

“Doug is a professional digitiser. He has a machine about the size of a small refrigerator on its side, and it can play 8, 16, even 35 millimeter film and pass it through a special lens to digitise the image.  He can also restore films, and does this professionally. Well he moved to Cortes Island last October, and I used to drive transit bus with him in Victoria. So we struck up a friendship and he said, ‘Sure, I’ll digitise these for the museum,’” said Sirk.

The films are in pristine condition because he used to play copies, rather than the originals.

Papua New Guinea ‘Sing-Sing’ – from ‘Modern Times Too’

McCaffry also made MP4 copies of a great many films that are not being shown.

“The hope is that the  museum will be able to eventually host all the films on their website,” said Sirk.

He added that they will also be showing 3 or 4 songs from Ann Mortifee’s  concert at the festival.

“We will project it on the same screen at the stage where she performed  35 years ago.  So that’s kind of be kind of neat and spooky at the same time.  That video has never been seen, everything else has been aired. So I call it a world premier and we’re still working on it.”

Top image credit: Al Murray as the Lone Ranger – courtesy George Sirk