RIC Alum Writes First History of Providence Film Studio
Adam Tawfik, Class of 2013
Founded in 1915, Eastern Film Corporation was nothing more than a footnote in Rhode Island film history, until Adam Tawfik researched the full story on the Providence-based silent film studio.
Tawfik is a graduate of the Class of 2013 at Rhode Island College, who majored in film studies and minored in history. During his last semester at the college, as part of his honors thesis, he engaged in original research on Eastern at the suggestion of his advisor, Kathryn Kalinak, RIC professor of English.
He began by delving through the archives of the R.I. Historical Society. He found only a few articles about Eastern that were written in the 1970s for the “Providence Journal.” He found out that Sen. Frederick Peck founded the company in 1915, investing $300,000 of his own capital in the venture, viewing it as a moneymaking enterprise.
“Prior to the 1910s, the film industry had been largely regional, with many small studios based in New York, New Jersey and Chicago. However, after the 1910s there was the birth of what is known as the studio system.”
To get in on the potentially lucrative business, Peck set up distribution offices in New York and hired actors from the New York stage. But for reasons unknown, his films were never screened in Rhode Island – not until 2004 when the Columbus Theatre in Providence showed them for the first time.
Tawfik viewed footage of the silent films at the R.I. Historical Society. He said, “Most of them lacked the polish of Hollywood films and their strength was not in the storyline.”
For example, in the film ‘Partners of the Tide,’ an orphaned boy is sent to live with his spinster aunts. His aunts do not have the money to send him to college, so he follows his dream to become a skipper on a boat. The main conflict is two-fold: getting cargo shipped on time and a rivalry between the main character and another man for the same girl’s love. Out of jealousy, the rival blows up the boat but becomes trapped in the fire and is rescued by the main character.
“Though the storyline is bland, Peck did invest a lot of money into blowing up the boat, which was well done,” said Tawfik.
In 1917 a fire broke out at Eastern studio, destroying the major sound stage. Tawfik said fires in theaters were not uncommon at that time. Because Peck’s studio had not had much success and it was too costly to rebuild, Peck abandoned filmmaking.
Tawfik hopes to succeed where Peck failed. Since graduating from Rhode Island College, he has returned to his home in Georgia. He said he hopes to write for film and television and has already produced a black comedy called “Christine Mon Amour.”
For his original work on Eastern, Tawfik was awarded the Mark W. Estrin Film Studies Award at Rhode Island College. His work will be bound and catalogued in Adams Library and digitized in the library’s Digital Archives.