Winter Kept Us Warm

The phrase comes from a line of T. S. Elliot’s poem the Wasteland, but also it is the title of a groundbreaking Canadian Film. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the release of Winter Kept Us Warm by Univeristy of Toronto student, David Secter.  Cited as the first gay English-Canadian film, it received international acclaim, premiering in Cardiff, Wales at the Commonwealth Film Festival in September, 1965 (a first for a student-produced feature film).  In 1966, the film was Canada’s first English language feature to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival.

Inspired by Orson Welles’ age when he made Citizen Kane (24), Sector decided to ignore his forth year of studies to focus on his own masterpiece.  At 21, he put an ad in the student newspaper, The Varsity, asking “Will the Great Canadian Film be produced at U of T?” and invited all interested students to join him in the venture.

With seed money from the Students’ Council of $750, he was able to shoot 12 minutes of the movie.  After sorting through the footage, and with some impressed letters of support from more senior filmmakers, Secter hoped for financial support from the National Film Board (NFB), the Canada Council or the Ontario Arts Council.  However, they all gave it a pass.  In the end he personally was able to find the rest of the $8000 budget himself, through friends and his own personal donations.

(Ironically it would be the NFB in May 1966, who would sponsor his showcase at  Cannes ).

The film’s gay subtext was deliberately staged by Secter, who wrote the film based on his own experience falling in love with a male fellow student.  He wrote that the theme of the film, “is that friendship, like snow, is brilliant but ephemeral.”  To capture the winter quadrangle romp scene he envisoned, he had his volunteer crew on 24 hour notice for 5 weeks, waiting for the perfect weather conditions.

At a time when homosexuality was still criminalized in Canada, Winter Kept Us Warm proved to be pioneering; film critics in both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail noted the film’s homosexual content.  Filmmaker David Cronenberg cites Winter Kept Us Warm as the most influential film in his life as well as to his discovery of cinema.

The film premiered in Canada at the Royal Ontario Museum in December, 1965, and turned out to be a commercial success, playing in limited release across the country and on many University campuses.  Secter was able to pay off his debts and attract $50,000 in seed money for his next film.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Winter Kept Us Warm, the Calgary Gay History Project will be hosting a pop-up screening on Saturday, April 25th.  Check in with this website on April 18th for more screening details.

{KA}

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