“A Reel Pioneer” is a documentary film about a little known pioneer of Canadian film and a group of modern day filmmakers who restore her last film.
Dorothea Mitchell was the first female independent filmmaker in Canada and her story is quintessentially Canadian.
The through line for “A Reel Pioneer” is built upon the biography of Dorothea Mitchell, but the story is about filmmaking on the Canadian frontier – then and now. Mitchell was born in India, but in 1907, she immigrated to Canada where she became the first woman in Ontario to be granted homestead rights. Dorothea’s homestead was at Silver Mountain in Northwestern Ontario. There, all by herself, she started a sawmill, hired bushworkers and even ran the local train station. At Silver Mountain Mitchell became known as the “Lady Lumberjack'' because of her proper British background.
In the mid-1920s Mitchell, then in her 40s, moved to Port Arthur, (now Thunder Bay), where she wrote, produced and starred in a series of silent films. The films were made by the Port Arthur Cinema Society and their 1929 “A Race for Ties” was the first amateur feature length film made in Canada. Dorothea Mitchell was a key member of the production team on all of the film projects. The last film, “The Fatal Flower” lacked only the inter-title cards when the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s put an end to the Port Arthur Cinema Society. Dorothea purchased the assets of the Port Arthur Cinema Society and waited for better times to return.
“Dorothea Mitchell: A Reel Pioneer” traces Dorothea Mitchell’s life using archival footage, film historians, dramatic recreations, and of course the films made by the Port Arthur Cinema Society.
In 2000, a Thunder Bay filmmaker, Kelly Saxberg rediscovered Dorothea’s films and the unfinished film. “The Fatal Flower project” developed with a group of local artists and writers who decided to finish the silent movie. Saxberg’s presence in the film makes the link between the past and present in the Canadian film industry. In “A Reel Pioneer,” Saxberg, a director and editor whose life took her out of the mainstream of the film industry to Thunder Bay, narrates the story of the Flash Frame’s efforts to finish the Fatal Flower.
It is a film that entertains and educates viewers with a look at a little known episode in Canadian film history.
Written and Directed by Kelly Saxberg
Producer: Ron Harpelle
Camera: Don Delorme and Kelly Saxberg
Music: Danny Johnson
Editor: Melanie Berbeniuk and Kelly Saxberg
Sound: Ron Harpelle
Michel Beaulieu Ron Harpelle Jennifer Garret
William OFarrel Kelly Saxberg Lila Cano
Peter Raffo Burt Brown
Tory Tronrud Danny Johnson
Heather Edson Ann Clarke