Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Interesting Vintage Film about Spokane Garry

Check this out:


This nearly 50-year-old film stands up pretty well. It has a condescending tone but is firmly pro-Indian, and tells the basic events of Garry's life story in context. It was shared to a Facebook group that I created, Spokane History Buffs.

Readers, does anyone know more about this film? What jumps out at me are the images used, including many colorized old photos and engravings of Spokane that I have never seen before. I wonder who has the originals? The film maker is credited as R. L. Pryor. A quick search reveals that he also made a 1970 film about the Spokane River. I can't discover anything more about him.

If you know any more about this fascinating film, pipe up in the comments!


Zach Wnek said...

This might help my fellow readers or watchers:

Lee O'Connor, Author and Filmmaker said...

With Pryor's permission, I had his films digitized by Jeff Tillotson at Lightpress in Seattle in 2015. Pryor also agreed to allow me to post his films on YouTube.

Chief Spokane Garry: Indian of the Northwest, 1966, 23 Minutes

Spokane: The First 100 Years, 1969, 26 Minutes

The Spokane River, 1970, 17 Minutes

Utilizing Fresh Water Resources: The Columbia River, 1971, 14 Minutes

Lee O'Connor, Author and Filmmaker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee O'Connor, Author and Filmmaker said...

Beginning in the 1960s, Robert Lee Pryor made films about Chief Spokane Garry, Spokane, and the Spokane and Columbia rivers. "I decided to make films on Spokane," he said, "because of the lack in that area and feeling the pupils in SD81 need material on their city and its history." Students of Spokane Public Schools (District No. 81) and the public enjoyed Pryor's films for decades until 16mm film projectors gave way to VHS and DVD players. Without a projector, no one could see Pryor's work until Washington State University MASC (Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections) digitized Pryor's Chief Spokane Garry film and posted it to YouTube in 2014.

Pryor was born in Spokane in 1928 and raised in Cheney where he received his master's degree from Eastern Washington State College (now Eastern Washington University) in 1959. After a year of teaching in Oregon, he moved to Spokane and worked for Spokane Public Schools for thirty-two years. For twenty-three of those years he served as the district's Instructional Media Coordinator, a position that allowed him to screen thousands of educational films and teach himself the art of filmmaking. Also, he said, "my long time interest in 35mm slides helped me in my composition of film scenes." Pryor shot on Kodak Ektachrome film. "My camera," he said, "was a 16mm Bell and Howell and had a good fluid drive tripod." To assemble his films, Pryor said, "I used a very simple editing with a raised back that had clips for placing film clips, a viewer and two hand-cranked reels."

Pryor said, "I don't recall anyone else making documentaries on Spokane in the 1960s." As a pioneer in the Spokane documentary film scene, Pryor produced Chief Spokane Garry: Indian of the Northwest in 1966, Spokane: The First 100 Years in 1969, The Spokane River in 1970, and Utilizing Fresh Water Resources: The Columbia River in 1971. In 1983, Pryor retired from the school district and moved to Idaho to live alongside one of his beloved film subjects: the Spokane River.

During his career, Pryor worked as writer, producer, director, camera operator, and editor. He produced films independently with his company Northwest Film Productions, and in collaboration with the Instructional Materials Service of Spokane Public Schools. He worked with film editor R. C. Horn of Crown Film Co., artist Patricia Christensen who worked in Pryor's Instructional Media department, narrator Stanley G. Witter Jr. of KREM TV and radio, photographer William J. Benish, and Alpha Cine Lab of Spokane. In the titles of his films, he gave credit to those who lent him assistance, and acknowledged a veritable who's who of Spokane institutions: Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane Public Library, Washington Water Power Company, KREM television, Lincoln First Federal Savings and Loan, Washington State Historical Society, E.T. Becher, John R. Rogers High School, and Northern Pacific Railroad.

Pryor's films should interest scholars because they tell Spokane history and show what Spokane looked like when he created his films. The documentaries should also interest film students because they show 16mm filmmaking techniques: time lapse, slow motion, night photography, macro photography, sliding shots, and traditional title art.

I am grateful to Pryor letting me learn from his films and excited to have his permission to share them with people interested in Spokane's history and the legacy of filmmaking in the northwest.

Lee O'Connor