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Winter Kept Us Warm stars, from left, Joy Tepperman (BA 1966 UC), who as Joy Fielding became a successful novelist, John Labow (BA 1964 UC) and Henry Tarvainen (BA 1969 UC) Photo: Courtesy of David Secter
Joy Tepperman, John Labow and Henry Tarvainen. Photo by courtesy of David Secter

Winter Kept Us Warm

Canada’s first feature film with a gay theme

May 1966: At the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, David Secter, then 22, dined across the table from Sophia Loren, head of the jury. “I’m not sure she knew who I was,” Secter recalls.

She should have. The film the University College student (BA 1965) co-authored and directed was the hit of Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique, which showcases the work of new filmmakers. “Winter Kept Us Warm did get a bit of buzz,” admits Secter. “It was the first English Canadian feature to debut at Cannes, and one international critic called it ‘the best North American movie at Cannes,’ preferring Winter to Doctor Zhivago, which also premiered that year.”

Set on the U of T campus and shot for just $8,000, Winter charts the rites of passage that university students go through. Read between the lines, though, and it’s about one man’s love for another.

Inspired by Secter’s unrequited love for a freshman, the film is Canada’s first feature with gay themes. “Back then nobody even acknowledged homosexuality,” says Secter. “One dean who read the script declared, ‘Nothing like that is happening on this campus!’

“Homosexuality was a triple taboo – the church proclaimed it a sin, the state considered it a crime, and medicine called it mental illness. The film outed me, and I still wonder how I found the chutzpah to make Winter.” To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film’s initial release, it will be screened at University College (May 29, 2015, 1:30 p.m.) during Spring Reunion.

Watch clips from Winter Kept Us Warm:

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