COLUMN: Film, capturing historic 1971 flights, a labor of love

Former Packet & Times editor chronicled annual fly-in of the Experimental Aircraft Association of Canada at Lake St. John airport; 16 mm film is now digitized, on YouTube

Fifty years ago my name appeared in a Canadian Photography magazine story I wrote about my film-making adventures. “My first film” started on page 11, alongside a photograph which showed me with my Bolex 16 mm, camera, and covered parts of the next three pages.

The previous year, in 1971, I had tackled my first film-making project having shot hundreds of feet of 16 mm film at the annual fly-in of the Experimental Aircraft Association of Canada at Lake St. John airport near Orillia, where I worked , at that time as district editor of The Packet & Times.

Back all those decades ago the internet had not been invented.

Sixteen-millimetre film was the stock of choice for those who worked at television stations, such as in Barrie or Kitchener, and one couldn’t easily purchase such film stock in small towns such as Orillia.

My story in Canadian Photography (July 1972) described in comprehensive detail the challenges of somebody wanting to learn about cinematography and doing it by trial and error.

Back then, with hundreds of feet of processed film, I worked diligently spending hours at the film department of the Orillia Public Library, when I wasn’t working for the daily newspaper, to splice scenes together.

Without the money for sound equipment, my film was a visual “epic” — without sound — and eventually I did have approximately 16 minutes of footage to show as a film to a polite audience of local pilots who were kind enough to clap at the end of my presentation. No Oscars for my film-work back then — nor since.

The Oscar, if there could be one in this department, should go to the ladies at the Orillia Public Library — Grace Crooks and Bev Bard — who encouraged me and helped me as I used equipment in the library film department in the production of my first film.

While working at The Packet and Times, I did stories about the Lake St. John Airport and sometimes I flew over Orillia and area taking aerial photographs. Once, I flew over what was then the biggest marijuana bust in Canada, on a farm in then-Orillia Township, and took an aerial photograph which made the front page of the Globe and Mail the next morning.

Once, I flew over a fire, which was burning a building at the corner of West and Mississaga streets. After getting my shots, the pilot was flying home when the engine on the Cessna 150 quit. It was winter and the pilot was able to land us safely on the ice of nearby Bass Lake.

While I did not pursue a career in cinematography, I did invest in Moreland-Latchford film company shares with the hope that such a company, which made educational films for use in schools, would bring me a fortune (no matter how big!) someday .

I continued to get ink on my fingers in the print-media business and sold my 16 mm Bolex to John Palmer, then a high school teacher who went on to become mayor of Orillia.

My fly-in footage went into a round, flat can for storage as I pursued my career in the newspaper business moving from Orillia to Collingwood, then to Woodstock and back to Collingwood.

A few years ago, enjoying my retirement, I was able to get Bruce Rudd, an audio-visual expert, to convert my fly-in footage to digital. He added an easy-going musical sound track to my footage and I was very pleased with the result because with the video on a memory stick in my hand I can share the fly-in video with anybody who has an interest.

The fly-in footage features many different types of aircraft, some home-built, some historic one-of-a-kind vintage planes. Some scenes that I captured were while flying in the front seat of a yellow Shark aircraft.

With two cockpits available, I flew in the front cockpit and photographed the pilot, complete with his leather cap and silk “Snoopy” scarf over my shoulder with the 16 mm Bolex camera.

It’s then that I learned about the effect the slipstream, while flying in an open-cockpit plane, has on something, such as a camera, which weighs six pounds. It caught me by surprise when the slipstream grabbed my camera and almost ripped my arms out of their sockets as I held on tightly to the camera!

On the ground at the fly-in, not only did I shoot parked planes and moving planes, I also shot footage of people. There are familiar faces in my first film, including the late Lawrence Shaw and Richard Clarke, whom I knew as a lawyer during my Packet & Times days.

In this film, there are also brief scenes which show a group that included Howard and Rosemary Anderson and Midge and Al Hanson. In another scene, there is a lady called Diane, whose last name I forget, who lived near Phelpston, Ontario.

Because I believe that photographs and films can be precious with their local and sometimes personal content, I was intent on sharing my fly-in video.

I discovered The Aircraft of Lake St. John, Orillia, Ontario, Group on Facebook. This group had aslightly different name a few months ago, but those who sign into this group all have a love of aviation and, in particular, of this airport My fly-in video was posted on this site and soon garnered positive comments.

Among those commenting was a Sudbury-area pilot and realtor, Phil Chandler. He wrote to me and asked if he could get a copy of my fly-in footage. I sent the video to him with my compliments and was happy to oblige.

Chandler, it turned out, was able to post my fly-in video on YouTube and that made me very happy because being on YouTube makes that Orillia-area film available to anybody with the ease of a click, or three.

I still fly and take aerial photographs and recently had the good fortune of producing my latest book, Come Fy with Georgewhich features low-level, color aerial photographs of Collingwood, Craigleith and parts of the Blue Mountain Resorts area.

Not so lucky with those Moreland-Latchford company shares. When video came along, soon after I bought the shares, their value dropped to the level of worthless. But I still have the share certificate somewhere in my sentimental suitcase!

George Czerny-Holownia, or George Czerny as he was known by his writing name, lives in Collingwood, and is the author of numerous books, including Kiss The Ground You Walk On, Canada!a travel guide, George’s Georgian Bay and, most recently Come fly with GeorgeHe worked for The Packet & Times from January 1968 until June 1977, starting as a reporter-photographer and later as managing editor before he moved on to become publisher of The Enterprise-Bulletin in Collingwood and, later, publisher of daily The Sentinel-Review in Woodstock, Ontario.

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