In "The Beginning...": First student film returns to SFU

July 04, 2022
Aileen Gee in a clip from the 1966 film "The Beginning."

In the beginning, there was a student with a second-hand video camera and a desire to make a film, an English Department T.A. with a storyline, and several members of the Simon Fraser Film Society eager to help out.

The Beginning is the appropriately titled first student film created at SFU – filmed, produced and directed by charter student Danny Singer in early 1966. The approximately 15-minute film explores male-female relationships and stars fellow student Aileen Gee and SFU Theatre stage manager Jan Visscher as mime characters. Filming locations included the Theatre, the Library and outdoors around the Academic Quadrangle and Convocation Mall.

Article about the film's production in the February 9, 1966 issue of "The Peak"

When he began the project, Singer says he had “little or no experience with movie cameras and anything [he] knew came from reading and youthful exuberance.” He recalls, “I came into possession of a Bolex camera which my Father had acquired from someone who needed a new suit (he had a clothing store in Edmonton). I had a new friend, Doug McKay, who was a cameraman at the CBC and I followed him around picking up bits and pieces of knowledge, also Stan Fox who was in charge of the film department at CBC and really became a mentor to me.”

Although he came to SFU for the Theatre program, Singer knew he wanted to do something other than acting, so he put notices up all over campus looking for others who shared his interest in making movies. Ed Turner, a T.A. in the English Department, came forward with a screenplay and the recently established Simon Fraser Film Society provided a production budget. Singer and Visscher “built the props and bumbled [their] way through about three days of shooting on campus,” with film society members pitching in as the film crew.

Film Society write-up in 1965-1966 SFU yearbook showing Singer and Gee during filming
Jan Visscher scene, filmed in Vancouver

Of particular note is the soundtrack that accompanied the film; R. Murray Schafer supervised its composition and production by his electronic music class (Music 001). Unfortunately, at some point the sound elements were separated from the visual elements and their whereabouts are currently unknown, or – as Singer puts it – “lost to the sands of time.”

Singer’s contacts at the CBC helped with editing the footage and once the film was completed a screening was organized at the SFU Theatre, where The Beginning “premiered…to a fairly packed but bewildered audience.” Looking back, Singer credits the film with giving him a jumpstart in the film world and for serving as the catalyst for the creation of the SFU Film Workshop in May 1967. After leaving SFU, Singer worked as a cameraman and director for the CBC until he moved to Montreal in 1970 to pursue still photography.

The original 16mm film reel

Fifty-five years after its creation, The Beginning returned to SFU permanently in 2021 with Singer’s donation of the original 16mm film to the Archives. Researcher Casey McCarthy recognized the film’s archival significance when interviewing Singer for the Early Arts at SFU 1965-1975 project and connected him with Archives’ staff.

The film has now been digitized along with more than 200 other student films from the School for the Contemporary Arts fonds, ensuring its preservation and potential to engage and inspire future generations of students, researchers, artists and film makers.

Want to see more? Check out a clip from The Beginning in our recent Instagram post.