The Girl from God's Country: Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema


428 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8542-3
DDC 791.43'023'092




M. Wayne Cunningham is a past executive director of the Saskatchewan
Arts Board and the former director of Academic and Career Programs at
East Kootenay Community College.


The focus of University of Toronto professor Kay Armatage’s study of
Nell Shipman, “the first Canadian woman to make a feature film,” is
on “Shipman’s working life.” Thus, while the book contains “a
strong element of biography—of a sort,” it does not attempt “to
get inside the subject in a psychological biographical mode.”

Against a broad-brush background of feminist theory and feminist film
scholarship, Armatage presents a balanced view of Shipman and her
limited output of films as neither a put-upon victim nor a put-down
genius. From the biographical details Armatage supplies, the documents
she cites, and the letters she quotes, Shipman emerges as a likable
woman of poor judgment in her choice of lovers and husbands, and as an
ambitiously competent independent filmmaker with a talent for scrabbling
together popular films with general appeal—at least until she was
squeezed out of the business by “the new industrialization of
Hollywood” and the advent of the studio system.

From an academically oriented content analysis of the three existing
features, four shorts, and a piece of a sound film that Shipman
produced, Armatage illustrates the filmmaker’s characteristic use of
nature, animals, and robust characters overcoming seemingly
insurmountable odds. She also explores Shipman’s cinematic commentary
on racism, nudity, female sexual desire, sexual equality, modernity,
technology, and morality. Throughout, Armatage portrays the reflections
on the screen as Shipman’s self-representation. In conclusion,
Armatage says, “Nell Shipman touches me,” a sentiment that infuses
this insightful and interesting study. It deserves to be read as a
record of a silent era filmmaker who achieved a modicum of success
despite the odds against her.


Armatage, Kay., “The Girl from God's Country: Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,