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CLGA.CA: The first gay-themed Canadian feature film will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary! While it might not be a familiar title to many people today, Winter Kept Us Warm was one of the first Canadian films to attract international attention upon its release in 1965. Even more remarkable is the fact that the film was written, directed and produced by a 22-year-old University of Toronto student named David Secter…as he was also working to complete his degree.

The film, which explores the burgeoning relationship between U of T students Doug and Peter (played by John Labow and Henry Tarvainen), was shot on campus beginning in 1964. While their bond is not explicitly sexual, the subtext that the two are ‘more than friends’ was clear to audiences and reviewers at the time (writing in the Daily Star in November of 1965, critic Robert Fulford references the “latent homosexual lines” that characterize Doug and Peter’s connection). Given that homosexuality was still an offence under Canada’s Criminal Code until 1969, the film’s relative frankness is all the more significant.

With actors from the Hart House Theatre group and a camera crew from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, Winter Kept Us Warm was very much a student-driven project. As Secter noted in a 1965 Globe and Mail article, filming had to be organized around everyone’s “lectures, labs and peace marches”. Secter and his colleagues struggled to secure the financing to finish their film, and by the summer of 1965 they found themselves with no prospects, mounting debts, and a four-hour rough cut of the film. Their fortunes changed suddenly when Secter received a phone call from the Commonwealth Festival in Wales, which was keen to screen the ‘world’s first student feature’—in six weeks’ time! The filmmakers managed to pull the finished product together by the deadline, and the film premiered in Cardiff on September, 1965.

Winter Kept Us Warm had its Canadian premiere at the ROM theatre a few months later (“College-Made Film Well Worth Seeing”, proclaimed the Globe and Mail). The film went on to a successful theatrical run throughout North America, and it was the first English-language Canadian feature to be shown at the Cannes film festival in 1966. Prominent artists like David Cronenberg have sung its praises.


One Response

  1. RobertE.

    You find the most exceptional material post after post. I’m left in awe.

    June 3, 2014 at 10:16 am

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