Quebec home movie from 1929 may be some of earliest colour film

Footage of a mystery family's summer day celebrations may be some of the earliest existing colour film.

Film historian Louis Pelletier paid $25 at flea market for footage

The film historian who rescued the reels from a flea market has no idea who the people are on the film. (Louis Pelletier/YouTube)

Flappers primp and preen for the camera, cheekily mussing-up each other's perfectly marcelled waves.

A well-dressed man puffs up his chest, proudly posing with his arms around two beautiful women who gleefully kiss him on the cheek. 

This isn't a Hollywood production — it's a home movie shot in Quebec back in 1929, and it may very well be the earliest colour footage that still exists in the world today.

Montreal-based film historian Louis Pelletier uploaded the digitized version of the amateur footage on his YouTube channel in mid-March.

He knew when he first purchased the old film reels at a flea market in 2014 for $25 that he had stumbled upon something remarkable.

"For people to see footage that old, in colour, it sort of bridges the gap between our current society and the world of a century ago," he said. "It makes us realize that people back then weren't that different."

'It's surprising for us to see these really nice, really clear colour images of this time period.- Louis Pelletier

Shrouded in mystery 

The edge codes on the film indicate the stock was manufactured in 1929.

Other clues, such as the fashion and a newspaper one of the women reads, support the suspicion that the film dates from that era. 

One woman, a brunette wearing a silk kimono, may have even picked out her outfit just for the special new camera. 

"It looks like she picked that thing out of her wardrobe expressly to show off the colour process."

Film historian Louis Pelletier purchased the colour film reels at a flea market for $25. (Louis Pelletier/YouTube)

Pelletier doesn't know who the people are in the footage, but he points to a few clues. 

"In the 1920s and 30s, home movie making was quite expensive. It was the more well-to-do families, shall we say, who owned film making equipment. I'm fairly confident that it's an Anglo family — there's the Union Jack at some point," he said, adding that he believes the footage may have been shot during a summer vacation in Eastern Quebec.

Montreal-based film historian Louis Pelletier has found colour film footage that dates back to 1929. (Jean-Philippe Gagnon)

Early colour film technique​

While the film itself appears to show black and white images, Pelletier knew he was looking at one of the earliest colour film techniques: Kodacolor. 

Pelletier has decades of experience working with early film, and his extensive knowledge served him well. 

"With this colour process, it looks black and white because of the emulsion," he said. "I recognized the vertical lines as a clue it was actually colour."

Eighty years ago, projectionists used a special color screen divided into red, green and blue sections to be able to see the vivid hues.

Pelletier had the footage in his possession for over two years before he could actually see it the way it was intended to be seen. He enlisted the help of fellow film lovers at la Cinémathèque Québécoise and film collectors who lent him their film projectors and lenses. 
The historic film footage found by Louis Pelletier shows young people have an fun time on a boat. The film dates back to the late 20s.

They gathered this winter as they prepared to screen the footage in colour for the first time in decades.

"It was quite festive," he said. "Everybody was quite excited, and happy that we managed to find a way to screen the film and see the colour."

Pelletier has collected approximately 200 reels of film over the years and knows that this is a rare find.

"I'm a historian, and we're always cautious saying something is the first," he said. 

"There were colour films shot in Montreal in the 1910s using another colour film technique, but all of these films are lost."

Pelletier and other film lovers will be celebrating home movies in April as part of Home Movie Day. You can hear more on this story Tuesday morning on Quebec AM with Susan Campbell at 7:40 a.m. EST.

About the Author

Julia Caron


Julia Caron is a journalist, radio-maker and art lover based in Quebec City. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Julia has lived in over a dozen military towns growing up. She has called Quebec City home since 2008, and proudly calls herself a franglophone (yes, it's a thing).