It is with great sadness that I create this post in memory of Michael Desbois Spencer, former member of the Canadian Army Film & Photo Unit. Michael was one of the four original members that formed the Unit in the fall of 1941. I was privileged to have met both Michael and his wife Maqbool on several occasions, the first being an interview I was granted to perform at their home on October 25, 2007. He will be greatly missed.
Michael was born In England, and was on holiday in British Columbia when war broke out in 1939.
Without a way to get back home, Michael decided to travel to Ottawa where he visited John Grierson whom he had heard was forming the new National Film Board. He was hired as an editor and worked for the NFB before joining the Army. It was a chance meeting on the troop ship to England that he bumped into John Grierson who was traveling to England to help in the establishment of a Film Unit. Grierson recommended Michael, who went on to become one of the original four members of the new Canadian Army Film Unit.
As part of his duties, Michael was involved in the editing and directing of many of the Film Units documentaries, most notably, You can’t Kill a City – a film about the reconstruction of the city of Caen. Michael was discharged from the Army in 1945 at the rank of Captain, and went on to work for the NFB as a producer and eventually went on to help establish the Canadian Film and Development Corporation, which later became known as Telefilm.
Michael’s illustrious career includes many accomplishments, most notably the Order of Canada in 1989 for his part in the establishment of the Canadian Film industry, and in 1992, Spencer received the Air Canada Genie Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2004 he was awarded the Bill Hilson Award for outstanding contribution to the development of the motion-picture industry in Canada by the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (CSC).
Taken from ‘The Viewfinder’ Page 1, Dec. 15, 1944, Roll 19;
“FILM RELEASED-WORLD WIDE DISTRIBUTION – YOU CAN’T KILL A CITY: To be translated into many languages
Prod. 971, YOU CAN’T KILL A CITY, is to be released for world wide theatrical distribution through the Ministry of Information. Distribution will not only be to the English speaking parts of the world (except Canada) but will be translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic and Chinese for release in those countries. In Canada the National Film Board will be responsible for the distribution of this film.
Directed by Capt. Mike Spencer, who returned to the U.K. from France to take over this production, this film depicts the death and resurrection of the city of CAEN….Caen, where Rommel and Van Rundstedt decided to make a stand, full realizing the importance of holding this vital road and rail centre…this springboard of future operations into the interior of France and key points of the whole Eastern sector. The film takes you from the beginning of the attack on the city by Canadian and British forces…through the blasting and bombardment of this small French city to the final expulsion of the Germans…The city is seen slowly coming to life again as the refugees wander back into the once dead city. Canadian troops set about cleaning up and reorganizing life in this battered part of France.
Musical score by Christian Darnton and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Muir Mathieson, this is a Film and Photo production. Cameramen, Al Grayston, Gordon Petty, George Cooper and Colin McDougall covered the cine work.”
Taken from ‘The Viewfinder’ Page 3, Prod 36, Jan 24, 1946, Roll 1
“B.O. GETS SHOT IN THE ARM FROM F & P
…Capt. Mike (Q for quality) Spencer is racing against the time he leaves for Shangri-la in getting his pride and joy Victory in the Netherlands finished. The commentary on this epic is in both English and Dutch and daily one may see the little man whipping pieces of sound track together with one hand while balancing a Dutch-English dictionary in the other. It is presumed that the opus will be finished the end of the current week in time for Capt. Mike to catch the “lizzie”. “