University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

Innis Film Society (1985-1993) Reunion Event

Conundrums & Disjunctions: The Innis Film Society reconstitutes for a special program of experimental cinema

On Friday night March 28th, there was a one-night-only reconstitution of the Innis Film Society. This was part of the Innis 50th anniversary celebrations. The IFS was the first student-run film screening group at Innis. It is rumoured to have origins in the mid-1960s but I came into the College in the early Eighties at a time when the students were very on- and off about it. A new and very energetic IFS student group solidified in 1985 around incoming Innis students — Jim Shedden, Kate MacKay, Paul Della Penna among them. Few IFS members were film students. In fact, their academic variety was striking.

IFS Reunion - Owen LandThe IFS’s core programming policy was experimental cinema and bringing in filmmakers to show and comment on their work. This approach was very successful. Within a few years, Innis became well known beyond the UofT as an experimental venue. Artists like Warren Sonbert, Stan Brakhage, Marjorie Keller, Ernie Gehr and Bruce Elder came, as well as assorted German and British filmmakers. The IFS broke up, as all such group’s do, when key members graduated the College, although the group calculated that almost three “generations” passed through the IFS. A number of former members stayed in Toronto and continued working in experimental film, including McKay, Mike Zryd and, now senior programmer of Pacific Cinematheque in San Francisco, Susan Oxtoby, who previously developed TIFF’s Free Screen and Wavelengths programs.

IFS Reunion - ProgramThe March evening, called “Conundrums and Disjunctions,” served as a warm reunion with well over forty ex-members attending the reception. A hundred more attended the film program – of vintage experimental films — that followed. Some members had kept in touch, but more had not seen one another for years. A few people, like Susan Oxtoby and David Morris, now a philosophy professor at Concordia University, flew in for the occasion. David gave a short spirited talk, as did Kate MacKay, who pointed out how many small independent screening groups, very like the IFS, enliven Toronto’s film scene today. Jim Shedden related a story of a Brakhage visit during which his 35mm masterwork, Dante Quartet, was gouged at its premier in Town Hall. Jim then showed that same print, which now seems to have aged, as some film prints do, quite gracefully. I added a few historical remarks. Janet Paterson introduced the evening. (Bart Testa)