Celebrating the Art of Canadian Cinematography

Preserved At: William F. White 1030 Islington Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.


Fritz Spiess csc was known as the Dean of Canadian Cinematographers. After his death on March 12, 1998, the Spiess family set aside his considerable collection of work-related documents, awards and commercial reels to be archived for the benefit of future cinematographers and researchers. At Fritz's memorial service on April 19th, 1998, his son, Carl, mentioned that the family would like to hear from people about setting up an archive of Fritz's life's work. An old friend and colleague, Harve Sherman, contacted Bill White and Fritz's family. The collection was moved to William F. White for safekeeping, a committee was formed to see what could be done, and an archival display was quickly set up in the lobby showcase at White's Toronto Facility. Since then, the project of preserving Fritz's work has grown significantly.

Archive Highlights

  • Over 1,500 television commercials, on 16mm film; plus special film and video compilations
  • Over 100 linear feet of archival files and published materials pertaining to the art and craft of cinematography, to specific productions and technical innovations, and to professional organizations
  • Photographic archive of over 400 assignments, including original negatives, vintage exhibition prints and productions stills

Fritz Spiess csc

Fritz's professional career as a cinematographer spanned 40 years. He won numerous awards in Canadian and international festivals, and the Television Bureau of Canada and the Canadian Society of Cinematographers, of which he was a founding member, have each named awards in his honour. During those 40 years he collected an amazing amount of cinema and advertising related materials. Fritz kept copies of many cinematography industry periodicals, and many contained interviews with Fritz. An example:

"I have often said half jokingly that what the sonnet is to poetry, the commercial is to film making. To contain yourself within the fourteen lines of a sonnet or to contain yourself within the 30 or 60 seconds of a commercial, are very similar restrictions. While many people feel that it is not possible to say anything worthwhile in that short space of time, they forget that some of the greatest artists in human history, such as Shakespeare and Michelangelo, have chosen the sonnet to express themselves and have succeeded in disciplining themselves into a given form. Anybody working in the world of commercials should keep this in mind. The main difference is that a sonnet can be written alone, but film making, particularly in the production of a commercial is the result of team work." FRITZ SPIESS csc


After Bill White graciously provided space, an archivist was hired who completed a catalogue of the many files and film reels. A new, custom-designed display case in the foyer of William F. White contains an entertaining and informative exhibition of some aspects of Fritz's work. We are setting an industry precedent by establishing a living archive within our working environment. Having considered selecting a heritage institution to care for the collection, we concluded, instead, that the most appropriate home would be right within our own community. Here the collection can continue to inspire practising cinematographers; it can be made accessible to students, and it can be available to researchers for study within the meaningful context of its own origins. In this model, we are both the custodians and the immediate beneficiaries of this legacy. To make this living archive work, we must provide responsible custodianship according to professional archival standards. To make it a growing legacy, we hope to attract support for the ongoing care and preservation of the Fritz Spiess collection, and to encourage others in the community to recognize the historical value of their own archives and to consider participating in the building of the community collection.

Archivist's Comments

"This collection documents a neglected and ephemeral part of our moving image heritage," says consulting archivist Theresa Rowat. "Fritz Spiess was a meticulous archivist. He not only created, he collected, he organized, and he documented. He left a systematic and unique record that spanned the formative decades of Canadian television advertising."


To help establish and develop the archives, we are seeking sponsors. Significant sponsorships will be recognized by a plaque and acknowledged on the display case at William F. White and in all archive-related printed materials. Smaller and private donations are of course also welcome. Founding sponsors include: William F. White, the CSC and ScotiaMcLeod's Mutual Fund Reporter. The archives do not have charitable status, but an accountant has advised that sponsorship of the archives is a suitable advertising or promotional expense that would have tax benefits for corporations. Cheques may be made payable to "William F. White, Fritz Spiess Special".

Special Thanks

In addition to Bill White, we would like to thank committee members Bob Lynn, Don Angus, Colin Davis, Harve Sherman, Dia Frid, Gerd Kurz, Daphne McAfee and our initial sponsors:


White Logo

CSC Logo
The Canadian Society Of Cinematographers

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The Mutual Fund Reporter

For more details on sponsorship, please contact:
Gunild Spiess
168 Church Avenue, Willowdale, ON M2N 4G5
416-225-5970, fax 416-585-9377



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