In 1928, a British law was introduced to ensure that fifteen per cent of films shown in Britain would be of British or Commonwealth origin. Between 1928 and 1937, twenty-two low-budget feature films were produced in Canada by registered Canadian companies, many of them with American involvement, in order to take advantage of this law. These films became known as “quota quickies.”
Production companies were established in Calgary, Montreal and Toronto to capitalize upon the legislation, but none produced more than one or two films. The most active companies were two enterprises headed by Kenneth Bishop in Victoria: Commonwealth Productions (active from 1932 to 1934), which produced two films set in Canada, including the bizarre Secrets of Chinatown (1934); and Central Films (active from 1935 to 1937), which produced twelve features, all of them imitation Hollywood B-movies, a few of which are set in Canada.
The federal government in Canada took no action to legislate a Canadian quota law similar to the British – at least in part because Ray Peck, head of the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, favoured a branch-plant film industry run by Americans. No provincial government enacted quota legislation to protect Canadian production. Ontario, Quebec and Alberta brought forward legislation to allow for the establishment of a quota for British films, but none of the provinces turned these acts into law.
Quota quickies contributed absolutely nothing to the creation of a domestic film identity. The effort to make them sapped the drive away from those Canadians who might have been able to take advantage of the positive possibilities the British quota law offered to Canadian production. In his book One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema, George Melnyk argues that “the quota quickies prefigured both the tax shelter mentality of the seventies and the American-led success of Vancouver production in the nineties” in that they “played their own historical role in marking Canada’s transition from its British colonial past to its new imperial master, the United States.”
When the British renewed the quota law in 1938, it was amended to remove the preference for Commonwealth production – mainly due to resentment at the way Canada had permitted the intent of the law to be so blatantly subverted.