In an earlier post I introduced you to Bunty Brennan, she was the creator of a collection of 16 mm films and photographs. The Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan (nee Noble) collection is a orphaned collection currently being ‘fostered’ at the CBC Media Archives in Vancouver.
What is an orphaned film? According to Howard Besser (Director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation masters degree program), an orphaned film is “a film without a parent…. [usually film is] taken care of by people who own the rights, claim ownership or parentage…there are a lot of films where no one takes ownership”. Basically, an orphaned film is abandoned (intentionally or unintentionally) by its owner or creator.
The term can also refer to all types of non-commercial, neglected or little-known films like public domain materials, documentaries, silent-era films, newsreels, home movies, avant-garde works, industrials, independent films, small-gauge films, educational films, outtakes, etc. These films or “ephemeral cinematic artifacts” are most at risk due to the fact that few nonprofit and public institutions/archives have the support (financial and infrastructural) and know-how to care for the films (in a variety of formats). Orphan films generally fall out of the collection mandates or collection policies of most traditional institutions/archives, therefore making them even more at risk to be neglected.
There is a group of film preservationists and other dedicated enthusiasts who identify as “orphanistas”. They are part of a growing cultural movement is aimed to preserve and recognize the value of these neglected aspects of our motion picture heritage. Since 1999 Orphan Film Symposiums have been held bringing together archivists, academics, and artists for the purpose of saving, studying, and screening neglected moving images. There is even a digital “orphanage” which, as a USC research project, provides a home for orphan film. In the United States, the National Film Preservation Foundation is a non-profit institution dedicated to saving orphan films.
So, who was ‘Bunty’ Brennan?
Eileen V. Brennan (nee Noble) was a Canadian Figure skater [ca. 1930s] known as Bunty Noble. According to the Glenbow Museum and Archives’ Bunty Noble fonds description:
Eileen “Bunty”‘ Noble, 1906-1980, grew up in Calgary, Alberta and was trained as a figure skater. She was a silver medalist at the International Skating Union at the age of 14 and was champion of the Glencoe Club and Alberta Provincial Champion through much of the 1930s. Noble was a featured skater at carnivals throughout western Canada and the northwestern USA. In the late 1930s she was an instructor at the Niagara Falls skating club.
This photo of Eileen ‘Bunty’ Noble and Norton Wait was likely taken around the time that the Glencoe Club hosted the Provincial Championships in 1935. According to an article by Corinna Diamond on the history of skating in Alberta, Wait and Noble, both from the Glencoe Club, were the Alberta Singles and Pairs Champions. ‘Bunty’ Noble was the first western skater to compete in the Canadian Championships. She was also the Alberta Provincial Ladies Senior Champion for six years, starting in 1929. ‘Bunty’ Noble eventually married J. Brennan, possibly an American, as there are indications she was living in Rhode Island. It does not appear that the J. Brennan’s had any children.
So, what about the orphan films of Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan? This collection came to reside at the CBC archives via the BC Sports Hall of Fame Museum under the care of curator, Jason Beck.
Due to the subject matter (sports) of several of the films, the entire collection was originally donated to the BC Sports Hall of Fame from the Royal B.C. Museum. It is uncertain how the Royal B.C. Museum originally acquired the collection. In accordance with their collection mandate, the BC Sports Hall of Fame Museum retained approximately 55 films that are ‘Sports’ themed. The remainder of the collection of 16 mm films and the collection of photographs (mainly mounted transparencies) known as the Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan Collection is currently being ‘fostered’ at the CBC Media Archives in Vancouver.
As was common practice at the time, the 16 mm films were sent away for professional processing. There are two main customer addresses for the films in this collection: Rhode Island, USA (various addresses) and Collingwood St., Vancouver, B.C. . After some research it is concluded that the address on Collingwood St., was the residence of Bertram F. Noble, a claims adjuster for Bell & Co. (ca. 1950s), and a relative (possibly the father or brother) of Eileen V. Brennan (Noble).
There are approximately 177, 100 ft. 16mm film reels in the Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan film collection. The films are mainly colour (with some Black & White) and range in date from 1937 to 1964. The collection can be divided into three major subject areas: Sports and sporting events (now at BC Sports Hall of Fame Museum); U.S.A and International travel; and British Columbia and Canada.
Though essentially ‘home movies’ shot by an amateur filmmaker, the films of the Eileen V. Brennan Collection present an interesting perspective of, and information about the community, popular culture and life at the middle of the 20th Century. Perhaps not every frame of the collection is historically significant, but this orphan collection is part of our collective cultural heritage and deserves a permanent (and loving) adoptive parent.
Excerpts from 4 home movies attributed to Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan (nee Noble). Shot ca. 1946, these films show Bunty and her father in the garden of her father’s house in Vancouver; at Spanish Banks beach in Vancouver; at Capilano Canyon and Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver; and finally Bunty and [her husband?] vacationing at an American resort identified as ‘The Hiltons’.