Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good Canadian Cinema? - Your Thoughts

Earlier in the week, we asked for your opinions on what you think Good Canadian Cinema? means to you and what state you thought Canadian cinema was in (or if it even existed or was an applicable term). Here are some of the responses we got.

Responses on here are anonymous and somewhat edited to exclude any personal messages we received with them that were off topic. In terms of on-topic content, these are unedited responses.

-I don't know whether I should even be responding to your post because I haven't seen very many Canadian films. I could say that it's strange that this aspect of our culture is so underdeveloped and unknown compared to Canadian music and literature, but I know people who claim ignorance of Canadian music and literature, and that doesn't mean that those worlds don't exist and aren't full of great talent. So maybe it just comes down to publicity and timing.

-It's incredibly hard to pigeonhole Good Canadian Cinema, and the picks that are playing are a good example of that. I like to think that the hallmark of our cinema is honesty. The great films don't compromise, they show flawed characters in difficult situations, and they don't always make the best choices, but there's honesty in their motivations. Watching Gordon Pinsent quietly suffer in Away From Her is a great example, and on the other end, the characters trapped in the Cube act appropriately given their insane situation. Even the Trailer Park Boys are just trying to reach Freedom 35, they're just looking for shortcuts. Their methods are illegal, but in their minds, it's an honest living that doesn't hurt anybody. Except for people that deserve what they get. My personal favorite, Last Night, is a perfect microcosm of Canadian cinema. A small scale end-of-the-world story, focusing on real characters dealing with the ultimate ending. I wish we could escape the shadow of American cinema, but that's a pipe dream, and we can't match Quebec's passion for their own culture, since our own is so tied to our American cousins. We just have to keep supporting the great films and filmmakers and hope that Joe Six Pack eventually doesn't dismiss a film just because it's Canadian.

-This is a heavily loaded question! There's such a huge problem in this country with national identity, and arts and culture's role in that. The fact that we have governmental controls legally requiring television and radio stations to play a certain amount of Canadian content is laughable to most countries in the world. They're basically saying "if we don't force you to play Canadian stories starring Canadian actors with Canadian writers filmed in Canada, then there's no way anyone will watch them or even make them".
The funniest part is that this is a totally different situation in Quebec. Quebecers have such a sense of their culture and history, and Quebec films regularly debut to #1 box office standings, grossing millions on opening weekend. They have their own movie stars and celebrities. It definitely helps that they have their own language, but it has to be something more than that.
The strange thing about Canadians is that they hate watching Canadian movies, but as soon as an American movie mentions or shows something about Canada, we're all over it. (Remember when The Simpsons did a Toronto episode? Unbelievable). We won't go see a Canadian film that stars Canadian actors, but as soon as Mike Myers becomes famous down south, we can't wait to point out that he was born and raised in Toronto. Is it just because we have such similar language, culture, and tastes as Americans? Ask any Canadian if we're the same as Americans and they'll tell you absolutely not- we have snow and the metric system and gay marriage and free health care. Although that hardly constitutes a culture- more of a generally accepted set of political ideas and geographic facts.
There is, though, a distictive "je ne said quois" to Canadians. This is why I'm so excited to watch Brain Candy. I don't think anyone has captured Canadians like The Kids in the Hall did. Something about our relaxed attitude toward the world while simultaneously being polite and reserved has left us with tremendous fodder for mockery and ridiculous non sequitors. And we should be proud that the show never would have made it in the U.S. in the early 90s with the vulgarity and frank jokes about sex and homosexuality that made it so great. (Not only that, but it was produced by the CBC- government funded jokes about sex!)
It's hard, I know, to make a film with no budget, and an audience one-tenth the size of America's. But there's such a delightful freedom in knowing that you can use government money to make a movie not that many people will see. When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.
Canadian films do just have to keep reminding people of it.

- I definitely think there was, is, and always will be good Canadian cinema, the problem is we don't promote our own movies. most of the movies go straight to dvd, or if they do hit the theatre they have zero marketing so no one even knows they are there. When TIFF comes around I try to make a point to see some of the Canadian screenings just because that might be only opportunity to catch them in a theatre, or even hear of them at all. The only ones that seem to get any publicity are either so stereotypically Canadian or made by an already well known team. We just need to boost our marketing a bit and it should be a better place for Canadian Cinema.

-I think good Canadian cinema is alive and well. Because we get less recognition and have smaller budgets, it forces us to be more creative and to strive for something better to get people to talk about us. There is a lot of ingenuity in Canadian films, I find, because we try not to rely on tricks, and focus more on story.

-Good Canadian Cinema? Sure. Of course there is. It doesn't necessarily have to directly identify itself as Canadian to be Canadian in my estimation. A good film is a good film, regardless of who starred in or directed it, where it was shot or just how much of it was financed by whom. Whether there is 95% Canadian Content or 10%. There are so many movies out there that I absolutely love. Some people grumble about the quality and content of Canadian film and it seems the industry even tries to distance themselves from it, but you can take something like Scott Pilgrim which clearly identifies itself as Canadian and enjoy it just as much, if not more than if they decided to set itself distinctly in New York.

-I think that the whole “controversy” regarding what constitutes a Canadian film is just ridiculous. Really good movies are disallowed from Canadian awards because of silly technicalities, and the red tape seems to extend down from the decision-makers to the fans. None of us really know what a Canadian movie is. I was surprised a few years ago when Juno wasn’t accepted as “Canadian” by the Genie awards, in spite of starring two Canadians in the lead roles and being directed by a Canadian. I love the hypocrisy of people rejecting good movies as not being Canadian enough, but fall all over themselves trying to find a “Canadian connection” in every celebrity, invention, event and anything else we can get our hands on. We will claim any one or thing as Canadian; just not films.

We are a silly, silly country.

-We're talking about Canadian cinema without talking about the most important difference, English Cinema and pretty much everything else. Currently, French Canadians have a veritable wunderkind in Xavier Dolan, who got attention from Cannes last year for J'ai Tu Ma Mere and global attention for L'amour Imaginaires this year. Denys Arcand has impressed people the world over, continuously, even at at the Oscars, What about C.R.A.Z.Y (which constantly gets shelved in the FOREIGN CATEGORY at so many video stores, ugh) as well as Atanarjuat? I think we need to stop whining about English films being bad or not getting their due and see the bigger picture.

I just get a little miffed when we ignore the fantastic stuff being produced in Quebec, more co-productions are needed to really gel the two sides of Canadian cinema together, and something a little better than Bon Cop Bad Cop, thanks.

-There do seem to be a number of really good Canadian films such as Fubar, One Week, Bon Cop, Bad Cop, etc. I'm not sure if it's the greatest thing for our film industry but the fact is getting any sort of grant requires over the top 'Canadian' content in the project. Although this is great for showcasing Canada to the rest of the world, i think it also limits the potential for these films to be distributed and relate-able to a worldwide audience.

-Your blog post (and the screening series itself) buzzes on an issue that my friends and I often debate. Quite a few of us are writers and directors. Good Canadian cinema does indeed exist. Part of the problem is the label. The other part is the math.

When a new Canadian film is being released, we talk too much about it being Canadian (the exception being Canadian films released so far under the radar that they have no labels at all). It becomes a qualifier, and sets expectations. Many of them bad. The most successful Canadian films, to me, are the ones that find more useful labels for themselves. Young People Fucking lucked into its label, thanks to blowsy conservative posturing. People spoke about the title and the controversy, instead of constantly driving home its Canadianness. Pontypool is pretty distinctly Canadian in its quirk, but it's about language and suspense, and it clothed itself in those latter before the former.

It's the same reason why we're far more known for our documentaries--most of these, even when they're about Canadian stories, label and sell themselves on the basis of larger issues. And hell, money or no, I'd say the least successful Canadian films are the ones that slather themselves in maple syrup. Your review of the hockey musical was generous at 2 stars. Passchendaele was a bloody joke because (as well as terrible writing) it worried more about mythologizing "our" story of WWI instead of concerning itself with any universal story of distinct heroism. Or you have Gunless (not to rag on Paul Gross too much), which did nothing interesting or new with its wild west setting except drag it into boring, stereotypical Canada.

And we filmmakers have to take some of the blame. There's so little money, so few avenues of distribution, that sometimes stamping yourself with a big maple leaf is the easiest way of attracting enough attention to get your film made, or thrown into a dark, one week engagement in a downtown Toronto theatre. We've internalized this label, and rather unsurprisingly (given the influence of American media), the audience has followed our lead. If we could just find a way to consistently make "small-c" Canadian feature films (and maybe fix the gaping holes in our distribution system), people wouldn't treat our C's as the bloody scarlet letter in the theatres.

And then there's the math. I would say by ratio that make roughly the same number of bad movies to good movies in this country as are made in America. The problem is that we make so many fewer films overall, that the fiasco films are the ones that attract the most attention. By my metric above, the most successful films are usually the quietest (in the context of their nationality), and are probably more likely to be missed during those hyper-serious conversations about Canadian Movies. We'll discuss One Week before It's All Gone Pete Tong, and ten hockey musicals before The Hanging Garden.

Maybe at the core of this diatribe is that we just need to start thinking about Canadian films differently, stop acting as if "Canadian" is a genre.

-I think this is a very interesting topic. It's a difficult thing to define a nation through cinema, but I guess we can say this especially for Canada because there isn't a consistent theme in Canadian films. When we think of the U.S. through film it's easy to think of Westerns or heist movies. We can define France through film when we say something is "French Cinema" and Italy with "Italian Cinema" But what is "Canadian Cinema"? We can easily think about this through money and that Italy, France and U.S. are nations that have heavily invested in Cinema at one time or are currently doing so, but it's more than just dollars and cents. Some of the investment is based on the fact that the nation loves the art, but it's also to invest on constant themes because they know What the people like, so why invest in risky change when you can gamble on a sure thing that you know will give you a return. Another thing that the U.S., France and Italy have in common is that they have large populations of people in smaller land masses, this means that there is a bigger and more visible collective in these groups, meaning that it is easier to define a culture in these places because people can see it more clearly and it is easier to put it on film.

So what about Canada? We're a small population in a large mass of land and we're all clustered mostly along the U.S. Border so it's very hard to get a Collective idea or culture when we're so spread out, but this is not a bad thing. Canada is So diverse in different cultures and ideas and each one wants to stand out, especially through film. Until somebody or a group individuals find a way to express the diversity of Canada through film that influences a change in cinema that will be when we can officially Say, "Canadian Cinema", until then I'll say that Canadian cinema is a film with Good Strong content that makes you think, but doesn't always have the budget to match it.

-Good Canadian Cinema for me consists of films that recognize they needn't bear the burden of the nation on their maple-dappled shoulders. Filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin have long been carving out an idiosyncratic niche for themselves, and they've impressively done so without having to make condescending asides to nationalism-starved audiences, a la Score or the interminable slog that is Passchendaele. That is not to say that films like Videodrome or My Winnipeg are somehow unCanadian -- the former shares DNA with the freaky body shit going on in the work of writers like Margaret Atwood or Barbara Gowdy, and the latter is very much a portrait of a place -- but they dispense with the kinds of goofy winks and questionable claims to polite Canadian universality, EH, that characterize our most egregious flops. While Score's colonization of prime poster real estate across the downtown core this fall was alarming, this isn't the apocalypse: Good Canadian Cinema lives on in the work of new idiosyncratic talents like Daniel Cockburn, whose debut feature You Are Here was one of the greatest discoveries of this past TIFF, Canadian or not. And maybe that's the definition we should be striving for: good cinema by Canadians, possibly set in Canada.

-I would just like to say that good Canadian cinema does exist. When I was in high school, a dedicated English teacher and I teamed up to keep it very much alive in a community that was engrossed in the 3-D, flashy, big budget Hollywood movie. I screened Vincenzo Natali's 1997's classic Cube and he screened Peter Medak's 1980 The Changeling. I don't think good Canadian cinema constitutes profit or the amount of people who know the film -- I believe it should surpass the debilitating setback of time. Think about it, your most beloved films have transcended temporality (John Hughes' Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, John Paizs' Crime Wave, David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch). That, and only that, (at least in my opinion) amounts to "good Canadian cinema."

-I think good canadian cinema should involve poutine.

-I think Canadian movie makers excel at movies that are clever and pretty and fascinating. I think we have an ear for a good story and a knack for working in challenging environments, landscape and fiscal. I enjoy Canadian movies like Pontypool because they are fantastic and surreal and firmly set within so much that shapes us - weather, language, getting along with each other, resources, etc. Can we get away from hewers of wood and drawers of water even in our 21st century cinema? I dunno - tar sands pay for a lot of these movies.

Good Canadian cinema, and whatever canucksploitation may be, work very similarly to our pop music. We're great with working with the tropes but we can say interesting things without being too bloody obvious about it. We're good at subtle. We're good at dry wit. We're good at gross.

-Sure, there is good Canadian movies, but they have a hard time getting access to marketing dollars, and so there's vicious cycle of movies not being seen, not getting big production budgets, not getting theatre space, and so on. Plus, for the most part our movie business is part of the American market, so to make it big here, you have to make it big in the US (the same problem radio/music used to have, until the government forced radio to play Canadian content - sure it produced crappy music, but it also opened the space for good Canadian music). I'm not surprised no one came to see Fubar - who knows what it is, compared to who knows about Pretty In Pink? I knew about it - but i've also already seen it.


  1. Good Canadian cinema SHOULD CONTAIN MORE POUTINE.

  2. I just had to include the poutine response when I set this post up. And that is coming from someone who hates both cheese and gravy.