Filmmakers are constantly battling to break out, struggling to find the finance to make enough good films to create a viable film industry. Canada’s filmmakers are sick and tired of being called Hollywood North. And the label Canadian film lacks the cache of, say a ‘french film, or a japanese film. Among the things holding Canadian film back is …
…a pile of lies – or misconceptions, if you prefer – masquerading as truisms.
Here are a few of the more common ones.
1. If you have a good script, it will get produced.
This is one of the biggest and best lie. A perfect illustration of huge naivety believing that parts of our imperfect world (including film-making, of all things) are in perfect running order.
The reality is much more frightening: if you have a good script in this country, you are likely to have a problem. Bad scripts, or at least mediocre scripts, are much easier to read than good scripts and producers are not known for their reading skills so much as their financial acumen.
When accounting meets literacy, there can only be one winner.
2. Toronto is Canada’s Beverley Hills.
This lie is not as outlandish as it sounds.
Obviously most film-makers’ Toronto offices are less grand – okay, drab – by comparison. And there are not many hills in Toronto, either. None, in fact. Nor is there as much sunshine as you find in BH.
But, as in Beverley Hills, there is a lot of talent concentrated in one place in Toronto, so the two are linked in that sense.
What makes this statement a lie nevertheless is that, in Toronto, you actually bump into film people in the street all the time, and they are amiably human, while in Beverly Hills the talent is locked up in cars trapped in traffic jams.
Long live Toronto and Canadian film.
3. Canada hasn’t made a great film since I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing.
Perhaps you think this lie is more absurd than mendacious. I Hear A Mermaid Singing? A great film? Be serious.
If it wasn’t one of your favourites, substitute any one of dozens of other successful Canadian titles from the last 10, 20, 50 years.
What about: Peter Carter’s The Rowdyman (1972), David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, Sarah Polley’s Away From Her (2006), Ted Kotcheff’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat The Fast Runner (2002), Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine (1971), Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Denys Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo (1996) which screened at Raindance in London England BTW?
Say, if you will, there hasn’t been a great Canadian film since Donald Shabib’s Goin’ Down the Road (1970). Go ahead. I dare you.
The point – the lie – is the suggestion that Canada has lost its power to make a decent movie. That it lost it some time ago (a few years ago, a few decades ago, whatever) and not only hasn’t made anything decent recently, it never will again.
Just watch out for Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother (J’ai Tue Ma Mere) and half a dozen or more new talented Canadian filmmakers coming out this year.
Canada can and will make more memorable movies. The sad fact is that it will not make as many as it might unless it has greater self-belief.
4. Some scripts are more TV than film.
Only in the fantasy world of film could anyone get away with objecting to something on such flimsy ground.
This is like complaining that an architect’s drawings could never add up to a skyscraper because they fit into an envelop. Where is the imagination to see that anything can be made to work as film rather than TV if handled creatively.
If Beckett can find majesty in a tale of two tramps, if Proust can find the whole of life in a tea break, great films, not TV, could be made from a limerick or less if there is an idea involved.
5. Canadian actors can’t open a film.
If opening a film means guaranteeing packed houses for a film from the off regardless of the script, certainly Canada is short of sure things.
Mind you, so is America every few years. Only it gets around the failing by running huge publicity campaigns. Indeed, without massive publicity even America’s best would have trouble luring many potatoes off their couches.
Besides, Canada does have big draw names, from established entities like Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Mike Myers, Kim Cattrall, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Pamela Anderson, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Reynolds, Dan Aykroyd, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox and Paul Gross
They and dozens of other quality actors can all lodge a title in a filmgoers’s mind, even without publicity, and open a picture very well.
If they seem to do so less successfully than their American colleagues, it is most likely that they are robbed of the press and publicity coverage they deserve.
6. Dysfunctional family films give the most realistic depiction of modern Canada.
A hard one to disagree with, this one. For Canada does seem to have a knack for looking at family with a cold, hard, accurate eye.
But, despite the pervasive sense of a country swamped by families in meltdown, these cruel flicks in no way reflect the reality of life in Canada for most people today.
They only seem so valuable because there are too few engaging films dealing with more conventional people. That is the mystery, or crime, that there are not many more convincing movies about ordinary society.
Is it so dull that it can’t make great cinema? Or is ordinary society not interested in seeing films about itself?
7. Canada is only good at American pieces.
There is no denying that the country has a canny way of looking like America, and it is not short of a good looking citieis to boot. So it is not surprising that it churns out a fair number of them.
Is this a flaw? As Julius Caesar might has said: Did the Greeks not write about their past? Was that not honourable?
There still needs to be scripts looking at the present day certainly. But even if Hollywood tends to devote a fair share of its budget to shooting in Canada, it doesn’t mean that a film needs to look American to be Canadian.
8. Canadian scripts are too wordy.
The implication is that other counties, meaning America, know when to shut up and let the visuals make the movie. That they know how to write scripts that make great movies.
Oh, yes, they do. Sometimes. The flaw in the argument is to suggest that they know how to write successfully all the time. As if they never produce turkeys.
This is a porkie on a grand scale.
Consider how many monkeys they have tinkering with hundreds of scripts day after day after day. Then consider that they only release the best of these, a fair share of which are actually written by Canucks.
Then consider how many of these – not the British scripts – are flops! Unless, of course, you have never seen a bad Hollywood film! What’s extraordinary is not how well Americans write but how badly.
9. Canadians prefer Hollywood films.
Oh, no, they don’t! This is a classic case of chicken and egg. Or, in this instance, more like big, wild Woolly Mammoth and egg.
If truth be told, if Canadians prefer any country’s cinema more than their own, it is most likely French or Chinese or the work of some other nation that produces insightful, thought movies.
But if it is Saturday night and the media have been telling you for months that Spiders/Snakes/Machetes in a Bed/Plane/Refigerator is THE movie to see and it is playing on 18 of your 19 local screens, with the unnoticed Canadian oeuvre scheduled for the final six seat auditorium, guess which one Canucks are going to flock to?
So decent but unadvertised Canadian films open and die by Sunday morning, leaving the coffers empty and unable to fund future, more adventurous films and US behemoths ride laughing all the way to the top of the box office.