Seen any good Canadian films lately? The 36th Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most important and popular festivals in the world, wrapped up recently and plenty of new Canadian films debuted. Yet, Canadian films aren’t always given the same recognition as American film and I wonder if I too have failed to give them their due. Are there some gems out there that I have missed? I decided to do some research, make a viewing list, and discover what makes Canadian film and the industry unique.
A good book to begin with is Brian D. Johnson’s Brave Films Wild Nights: 25Years of Festival Fever. It documents how the Toronto film festival originated, grew, and exploded into the major event it is now. The book is packed with pictures, gossip, international film history and a basic background of significant Canadian films (in 1984 the festival did a poll on the top 10 Canadian films – number one? Mon Oncle Antoine). The book also demonstrates how it has become harder and harder to maintain a balance between the American product and, well, everything else, including our homegrown flicks.
I found this brief but informative overview on the Canadian film industry that gives a little bit of history, mentions several of the problems in the Canadian film industry (such as the cultural cringe theory and the fact that Canadian film makers often don’t have access to the same funding as US ones), discusses seminal Canadian directors and includes a list of notable films such as Atanarjuat, The Company of Strangers, Leolo and The Sweet Hereafter.
For a comprehensive history check out George Melnyk’s One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema. This book provides detailed background on Canadian cinema’s slow beginnings, the rise of the NFB and the emergence of Quebec cinema. Melnyk also devotes chapters to the cinema of English Canada, Aboriginal film, experimental film and film criticism. Profiles of many directors and their films are included, such as Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal, Allan King’s A Married Couple and Warrendale, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Alanis Obomsawin’s Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and Bruce McDonald’s Dance Me Outside.
The most enjoyable book for me is without a doubt Caelum Vatnsdal’s They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema. I like horror films and Caelum shares the same enthusiasm I have for often neglected and forgotten treats like Rituals, The Clown Murders, Curtains, Terror Train and Shivers. Fans of the genre will not be disappointed with this well researched and witty book. Find out what scares the average Canadian.
I also think Katherine Monk’s book Weird Sex & Snowshoes is extremely worthwhile. She focuses on the uniqueness of Canadian cinema (we don’t have to imitate the Americans!) and she examines themes typically prevalent in Canadian movies. In her checklist of 100 Canadian films she notes ones that have oppressive landscapes (New Waterford Girl), fragmented narratives (Careful), potent women (Maelstrom), and many more Canadian-isms like cold weather as a running gag, outsider stance, passive men, and canoes.
When considering Canadian cinema, don’t forget the local achievements of filmmakers from Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Film Group has released several DVD compilations of short films including Beginnings 1976-1983: the Early Years, Illusion of Normalcy, Winnipeg Saga, Ladies First, Isolation in the 1980s and The Sensationalists of the 90s . Winnipeg’s most celebrated filmmaker is Guy Maddin and Guy Maddin’s Interviews is a suitable print introduction to an artist who has built up an incomparable body of work. The library has copies of many of his films including Archangel, My Winnipeg, Cowards Bend the Knee and Brand Upon the Brain. This last film has been released under the prestigious Criterion label and is one of a handful of Canadian films to be selected by Criterion. Does Maddin choose his own movie when he’s allowed to pick whatever he wants from the Criterion closet? Find out here.
I’ve seen some of the Canadian films mentioned above but there are many more waiting to be discovered. What are some of your favorite Canadian films?