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  • Secrets of the NightThe Discovery and Preservation of a "Lost" Silent Film
  • Brock Silversides (bio) and Christina Stewart (bio)

A collection of sixteen films was donated to the University of Toronto's Media Commons in November 2016. It was a modest assortment and initially, apart from the fact the films were all silent, seemed unremarkable. However, during the collection processing, it soon became clear that some items were indeed extraordinary and deserved wider public exposure.1

Media Commons is a department of the University of Toronto Libraries that was established to gather, preserve, and make available for study and research Canadian and international historical and contemporary culture and history through media-based archives, microforms, and circulating audiovisual productions. The role of audiovisual productions and documents in the transmission of knowledge at every level has been long established, and interest in and usage of these resources in numerous fields are now accepted as an integral part of scholarly and journalistic research.

The primary mandate of Media Commons is to support the curriculum of, and research in, the various disciplines taught at the University of Toronto. The department serves the faculty, staff, students, and alumni as well as the general public. It is divided into three sections:

The Audiovisual Lending Library acquires and circulates published (commercially released) film, video, DVD, and multimedia, both fiction and nonfiction. The primary selection criteria are faculty requests for a title to be used in class or for research projects, the systematic acquisition of acknowledged "classics," important Canadian titles, and items that add to the depth and breadth of the holdings.

Microforms acquires and makes available microform publications. These include, but are not limited to, rare, out-of-print, and antiquarian books; pamphlets and periodicals; runs of newspapers; archival collections; and dissertations.

Media Archives acquires, preserves, and makes available archival and special collection materials of Canadian and international significance relating to the audiovisual and media communities and popular culture. Materials include, but are not limited to, historical and contemporary film/video production, radio and television advertising, electronic and nonprint journalism, broadcasting (both radio and television), photographic arts, and popular music production.

The Media Archives section has in particular accumulated an array of archival collections that document the artistic, financial, legal, and production and distribution activities of individuals, organizations, and corporations. It includes collections from independent filmmakers like Ron Mann (documentaries about popular culture), larger companies such as Lionsgate Entertainment (feature films and television series), broadcast executives/visionaries like Moses Znaimer (CITY-TV, Much [End Page 132] Music, IdeaCity, Vision TV, Zoomer Media), news anchors like Peter Mansbridge (CBC's The National), collectors like Colin Geddes (feature films from Hong Kong and Taiwan), animation companies like Nelvana (television cartoons), and distributors such as Rocco Mastrangelo (feature films from Italy)

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Figure 1.

Secrets of the Night. Frame grab. Silhouette of the murderer's hand and gun.

Courtesy of Media Commons, University of Toronto.

Media Commons staff possess expertise in the selection, arrangement, description, and preservation and conservation of film, audio, and media materials. The department has a dedicated cold vault for long-term storage—the only one in a Canadian university—and an array of film, video, and audio playback equipment that allows it to access almost any audiovisual format.

The aforementioned collection of silent films—six features, nine shorts, and one cartoon—was donated to Media Commons by Richard Scott of Mississauga, Ontario. His father, James Scott, was an accountant at Eaton's department store in Winnipeg from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s. During much of this period, Eaton's had a diverse lending library of 16mm films, much like a Blockbuster outlet in more recent years. Shortly after World War II, the store decided to discontinue the service and offered the films to its employees. The Scott family took at least sixteen silent films. [End Page 133] Scott recalls watching these in his basement as a child in the 1950s:

Initially our Dad ran the projector, but he later taught us both [Richard and his brother Wayne] how to operate it with proper slack above and below the sprockets, and proper tension on the spring driven take...


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