They were known as the “quota quickies.”
Cheap movies produced in Victoria during the 1930’s, to satisfy a British film content quota.
And it was a matter of quantity, not quality.
Royal BC Museum archivist Dennis Duffy explains that “there was a quota in Britain…
“A certain percentage of films shown on British screens had to be made in the British Commonwealth.
“So American producers put money into production in Canada.”
They may have put in money, but according to Duffy, it was not a lot of money…
“The idea was to make films quickly, and cheaply, to fulfil the quota.
“I believe about ten or twelve of them were made in Victoria, [the quota quickie] Secrets of Chinatown probably being the most notorious.”
“This film is set in Vancouver, but it was shot almost entirely in Victoria” says Duffy.
“Fan Tan Alley shows up in one shot, there is a police chase through Fairfield, and there’s a big climactic dust up on the slopes of what looks like Gonzales Hill.”
And what about the plot?
According to Duffy, “it’s a pretty nasty piece of xenophobia.”
“This film is full of things that make you sort of sit up and say ‘is that really happening?’
“Virtually all of the Chinese characters are played by white actors, in really bad make up…”
Duffy explains that there was a backlash from various groups…
“The Chinese Counsel in Vancouver was not happy with it…and said that this film unfairly represented Chinese Canadians.
“The counsel in Vancouver complained to the Counsel General in Ottawa…
“He went to the Department of External Affairs, and said that this was going to do harm to relations between Canada and China.”
Secrets of Chinatown premiered in Victoria on March 8, 1935, and played for nearly a week…
“But on the seventh day, the British Columbia Provincial Police came into the theatre and seized the film, at the request of the provincial censor.”
Yet, with all the challenges that producing these films brought, Duffy points out that “the quota quickies are important.
“They do represent the beginning, in a way, of an indigenous film industry for Canada.”
The Royal BC Museum and Archives holds a copy of this quota quickie, Secrets of Chinatown, from Library and Archives Canada, in Ottawa.
CLICK HERE to view the full version of Secrets Of Chinatown.