Imagine sending your film off for development, receiving a tracking code for its return leg and then being handed an empty envelope when it finally arrived. Well, empty save for the sales receipt. Now imagine that instead of a roll or two of 35mm or 120 film, you were waiting for 12 reels of Super 8 film and a hard drive containing a colour corrected digital copy; the entirety of the documentary you spent two years researching, a year and a half writing and several months shooting.
That is sadly the situation Alberta artist seth cardinal dodginghorse found himself in a few weeks ago.
Shot on a mixture of Kodak VISION3 and Pro 8mm film stocks, dodginghorse’s as-yet-untitled film is funded by Original People’s Investment Program and explores the Tsuut’ina family’s history through the women of the family and the journeys of Tsuut’ina First Nation cultural artifacts and other items that have been lost, stolen or otherwise sold on over the years.
Ultimately, the film hopes to answer three questions: “How did our belongings end up in museums? Who took them? How do we get them back?”
Frames from a backup scan follow.
dodginghorse spent Summer 2019 travelling between museums and collections in Calgary, Ontario and Montreal before personally dropping the reels off at a Toronto lab for development and scanning in September. Processing complete, the reels were sent on to Toronto’s Frame Discreet for scanning and colour correction before being shipped to dodginghorse using a tracked Canada Post service
Understandably excited at the prospect of beginning the edit, dodginghorse checked Canada Post’s website several times a day to check on its progress. On the mid-November day the film was supposed to arrive, dodginghorse tracked the postal truck as it was being driven around Calgary, eagerly anticipating its arrival. It never came.
The following day, he received a notification asking him to visit a local Canada Post office for pickup:
When I arrived at the post office, the person working there told me, “you arrived just in time, your package has been here for only ten minutes”.
I guess it wasn’t the right time though because I moments later I was handed an open and very empty envelope.
Well, apart from a receipt for $1,470.
The fact that a film talking about missing objects had itself gone missing wasn’t lost on me.
To dodginghorse, it was obvious that the seal had been intentionally opened; there were no signs of the envelope having been caught in sorting or other machinery and there was dirt on the outside layer.
Hoping to be able to track the Canda Post employee who had made the delivery to the local office, dodginghorse asked for contact details, which although provided, have yet to lead to the person responsible for the final leg of the package’s journey.
The trail looked like it was about to go cold.
The missing film has a lot of sentimental value to me. One of the reels includes footage I shot in 2014 when I was 19 of my family’s land and home before we were forced to move for the construction of the SW Calgary Ring Road. It shows the land and my house before they were torn up for the construction work.
I had to laugh at the situation because of the irony and that if someone stole the contents of my package, what were they going to do, edit my film for me?
This was dodginghorse’s my first major project shooting on Super 8 film, having mostly shot using VHS for previous work. The camera he used – purchased when he was 18 using money earned dancing at Pow Wows – is a Canon Auto Zoom 1014 Electronic, which dodginghorse employed with the mind to create a feeling of a home video that could be shown to his future family.
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In total, 12 Super 8 film reels were handed over for processing and subsequent shipment to Frame Discreet for scanning and colour grading:
- 8x Kodak VISION3 Color Negative Film 200T/7213
- 2x Kodak VISION3 Color Negative Film 500T/7219
- 1x Pro 8mm 200T
- 1x Pro 8mm 50D
Thankfully, upon hearing of the loss, Frame Discreet were able to post a second hard drive of scans.
They were very nice, understanding and supportive when I called them and explained what had happened and why I needed a second hard drive.
dodginghorse documented trips to different Museums and archives, filming what he saw in them. The end result, he hopes, is the creation of a piece that sits somewhere between documentary and experimental film. However, with the physical film now missing, his approach to the project must change:
I originally wanted to make a master cut where I would experiment with scratching, drawing and hand-tinting the film and then getting that rescanned.
I’m also an experimental musician and do home recordings using reel-to-reel tape machines and cassettes. I wanted the majority of the work on this project to be analog, including the soundtracking which I am doing.
I’ve worked with digital editing tools before, so I’ll be using that for now until – hopefully – my missing film turns up and then I can splice the tape.
What next? Over the past few weeks since my first contact with dodginghorse, I’ve been pleased to learn that one reel of Kodak VISION3 200T was returned to him in late November and just a few days ago, he let me know that five additional reels have since been located and returned to, albeit arriving on “smaller reels”.
The remaining six reels and original hard drive of scans, however, have not. dodginghorse has mixed feelings about a partial recovery, adding that, “Canada Post has been very vague about where they found the missing reels”.
He has a digital copy on hand and although he’s not able to complete a physical cut at this time, the backup scans mean the film can still be finished, albeit using different tools
I asked dodginghorse if he’d consider reshooting the entire film and what effect that would have on the final outcome:
If I was able to I would shoot it all again I think though it would change the outcome quite a bit. It was my first time traveling to these places in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and also my first time seeing objects from my own Nation in these museums, so I had a lot of emotions rediscovering them.
For some of the places I visited, I was the first person from my Nation to see the objects since they left their original owners over a hundred years ago. I’m from Tsuut’ina, so as I travelled and filmed these museums in these new-to-me cities, I feel as though my excitement translated to what I captured on the film.
Film feels very magical and what I love about it is how so many things are physically captured onto and into the emulsion. If I reshot it I’m sure it would still be magical because it’s film and I’m still excited about what I’m making.
A happy ending? dodginghorse hasn’t given up on locating the six still-lost reels and in the absence of being able to reshoot the entire film, he’s left with a digital edit and the possibility of restarting – and ending – the project as it was originally envisaged at some point in the future.
seth cardinal dodginghorse (intentionally lower case) is a contemporary artist/musician who graduated from the Alberta University of the Arts in Spring 2019. In 2014 dodginghorse and his family were forcibly removed from their homes and land to enable the construction of the SW Calgary Ring Road, an experience which has been a prominent influence in his work to date.
You can see more of seth’s photography and videography over on Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo. For Canadian readers, you can also see seth’s work in person over at Tina Guyani | Deer Road, which runs at the Art Gallery of Guelph until December 15, 2019 (Guelph, ON).
Thanks for reading and if there’s anything you’re able to do to help seth recover his missing film, please reach out in the comments below.