Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Good Canadian Cinema?: An American Perspective

Time for a confession. Maybe I am not the best person to be talking about what makes for Good Canadian Cinema. The truth is that I grew up mostly in the United States. I grew up in Boston and have only lived in Canada for 5 years now. A lot of the films, I doubt I can really put into any greater sort of cultural context and for that I am sorry. I really can't speak on what makes the films selected for this series part of a national identity or even why they are particularly culturally relevant. All I can talk about is their merit as films, and in the end, isn't that what matters anyway?

I know that when the idea was first floated to run such a series at the Underground, it was the start of a bet and nothing more. Alex (our lead programmer and concession stand-ista) thought that good films made in Canada could do well. Nigel (our day to day guy and general devil's advocate) thought the whole idea was more or less a waste of time. No matter how well we had promoted Canadian content in the past, no one had showed up.

Take for example one of the first films ever played at the Underground, Hard Core Logo. When I created the polling system for people to determine what films they wanted to see, there was a great deal of discussion as to whether or not to play it again or even include it in the poll since the last time we played it maybe 12 people showed up across 3 days. Fubar, which we played in advance of the sequel's premiere at TIFF played to exactly 6 people, and on the first day it wouldn't have run at all if three people didn't show up at the last possible second.

The poll was created to determine what Canadian films were most likely to draw an audience. We all know that in this digital age, films are so easy to come by that it is hard to get people out to see archival films in a cinema, so we wanted to listen to the customers to see what they wanted. The bet is still on, but the odds are stacked in the favour of a decent turnout.

The topic of what exactly constituted Canadian cinema was a heated debate from time to time that I generally avoided. Granted, while this is my adopted country and I wouldn't trade living here for living anywhere else, I just don't entirely see films as Canadian or American. Film is an artform that belongs to the world, and the films that fare the worst are the ones that try way too hard to fit into one singular culture. Personally I think a film like Score: A Hockey Musical is just as insipid to a culture as any flag waving American baiting action film. Score was actually the genesis for this bet when the film debuted at 12th place at the Canadian box office.

Films really should be made for the world. This isn't to say that a film needs to shy away from politics or issues, but the underlying message should be universal in nature. The films chosen definitely seem to reflect my feelings on the subject.

Then there is the whole issue of "where does the money come from?" Everyone castigated me for defending Porky's (one of our selections) as Can-con because it was more of a hit in the States than anywhere else. At the same time, arguments were made that the new highest grossing "Canadian" film is Resident Evil: Afterlife simply because it was produced by a famous Canadian producer who ended up using very little Canadian money to fund the production (which is mostly British-German-American in nature). It was at this point that I just gave this argument a wide berth because my head began to hurt with how backwards and cyclical everyone's thinking was. My own included.

I am going to talk about movies the way they were meant to be talked about. On their own merits. Throughout the course of the week, I will also be inviting guests to write about these films in a similar manner.

But I also want to hear from you guys and post your reactions to what you think Good Canadian Cinema is. Does it exist? Is it alive or dead? Let me know. Send your reactions to brodymulder@hotmail.com and I will accumulate the best responses into a final summary post to be posted here on Sunday.

In addition, anyone who responds BEFORE 11:59pm on WEDNESDAY will be entered into a random draw to win a pair of passes to every screening during our Good Canadian Cinema weekend. Two runners up will receive a pair of passes to any Good Canadian Cinema screening of their choosing.

Good luck and I really hope to hear from you. Come out and support not just good Canadian cinema, but some of the best films that have been made in recent memory.


  1. I was a little more than annoyed at The Star's argument that Resident Evil IV is the top-grossing Canadian film. Does anyone do their research anymore!?

  2. I thought the top-grossing Canadian film was Air Bud.

  3. Fun fact: Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead) is writing a Porky's remake. The title: Howard Stern's Porky's.

  4. I'm pretty surprised Ginger Snaps didn't make this list...

  5. @Stephanie: I agree. Honestly, I think Porky's is far more Canadian in nature than any of the Resident Evil series, but I seriously got trashed by someone who said just because Don Carmodie was the producer (a Canadian institution in his eyes) that it was way more Canadian than Porky's. Then I stopped caring.

    @Mike White: I wish it was sometimes.

    @Alia: That has been in the pipeline for well over a decade now. I doubt that will ever see the light of day. Howard Stern's days of writing books and making movies is pretty much done.

    @Josh: Funny story, it DID make the list. Only one problem. We can't play it. Why, you may ask? Because no one knows who owns the rights to the film anymore, and we can't play it legally unless we get the rights. Apparently the rights are now held by TVA, but not once over the course of four weeks did anyone ever respond to an email and every phone number we were able to come up with for them didn't work. Sadly, that and that alone is the reason we can't show Ginger Snaps. Had we known it would become a "lost film" we never would have put it on the poll.

  6. There is absolutely such a thing as good Canadian Cinema. We don't always get exposed to it, as Canadians, which is the great tragedy of the industry, but it's out there if we care to look.

    I do think it's always a hard thing to talk about Canadian culture in general, including our films, as being particularly Canadian because of the mosaic quality of much of our country. But perhaps reflections on screen of this diverse population and landscape is precisely what makes a work of art distinctly Canadian.


  7. I think we have good Canadian cinema for sure and I really think it's only getting better.
    Canadians have a wry wit and a self-depricating appreciation of who and what we are..and definitely on how we are perceived which I think definitely comes across in our films

    We also produce some top notch documentaries which are completely worthy of showing!

    I absolutely loved One Week, Porky's, Brain Candy,Away From Her and 1980's horror flick Funeral Home.

    Looks like it'll be a good weekend of Canadian film!

  8. Ooh.....I forgot Bollywood/Hollywood! Another great flick!

  9. Most Americans I know laugh when I mention Canadian cinema, and I understand why when we release stuff like SCORE. Nice post, interesting to hear an honest onlookers perspective.
    I think Canadian cinema is alive and slowly getting stronger, but it is still in a very sad state when compared to american and european cinema. We have a lot of truly brilliant films (I absolutely loved Daydream Nation which played at TIFF this year) but the only ones that seem to get half decent releases end up being embarrassing Canadian cliche filled cheese fests.
    Very cool contest by the way. I hope posting here counts as an entry!

  10. I really enjoyed waydowntown and fubar. Its been a while since I saw a canfilm I really loved. Might as well revisit the classics!

  11. I have been watching Canadian movies from the 70s and 80s for quite a while and posting reviews at cinertia.blogspot.com. I think the cultural nationalist position on feature film is valid from an economic/structural perspective but hell on content - filmmakers have a duty to the medium and the audience, not the goddamned flag.

    However I STRONGLY disagree that films should aspire to 'universality' - that rhetoric has led to countless cinematic disasters around here. The best Canadian films I've seen are the most specific, whether you're talking about so-called quality productions or fly-by night genre flicks - they express a unique vision with wit and form; they understand their limitations and use them to their advantage.

    BTW in my opinion Porky's is almost unwatchably mean and further compromised by its pretensions to redeeming social value; I actually prefer Porky's II (not to mention Meatballs, Screwballs, Oddballs, etc).