Protest: Citizen Journalism in 1981

Rated ‘R’ in 1980s Vancouver!

It starred John Gielgud, Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren, but the film raised community objections. A former City Councillor led a group protesting the showing of the film Caligula in Vancouver. The protest itself was captured on film.

Hans Sipma, a professional still photographer, was on his way back to work from lunch in July 1981 when he saw a large group of sign-wielding protesters in front of the Towne Cinema at 919 Granville Street, a mainstream—not pornographic—theatre. He ran back to his office, grabbed his Super 8 camera, and shot 11 minutes of candid footage of the discussions taking place. He named the film Protest.

We edited the video to produce the excerpts seen here. The full version is on our YouTube channel and on our web site. For copyright reasons, we have omitted the opening and closing music, “A Glimpse of Heaven” by the English rock band Strawbs on all web presentations, but the video may be watched with the music in the Archives.

One of the leaders of the protest was Bernice Gerard. Born in the 1930s, she had performed with the two McCall sisters, playing her fiddle (nicknamed Junior), in tent evangelical shows across North America. When one of the sisters left the show, Bernice Gerard started to preach. The tent shows continued into the 1970s; she later moved her ministry to radio and TV, and Bernice Gerard Ministries continued until 2000.

For the four years before this protest, she was a Vancouver City Councillor. During that time, in 1977, she unsuccessfully protested the expansion of the nude sunbathing area at Wreck Beach toward Spanish Banks beach. In her work with the UBC chaplaincy, she thought the clothing-optional beach would be unhealthy for student morality. She died in 2008.

The film Caligula was produced in 1979 by Bob Guccione, most famous as the publisher of Penthouse magazine. The film debuted to critical scorn and became infamous for its scenes of sex, gore and violence. Several versions were released, ranging from 105 to 170 minutes in length. This group would have been protesting the shortest, R-rated version, without the most offensive material.

Our thanks to Hans Sipma for donating the Super 8 film to us in 2010, along with his copyright in the work. We had it digitized a few months later.

Do you remember this protest? Were you there? Are you in the film? Let us know.

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