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Why don’t Canadian films LOOK Canadian? What makes a film truly Canadian?

What do we expect from Canadian movies? I feel like this is a question we Canadians should be asking, but end up overlooking entirely. I’ve brought this up in previous posts, but I’m going to bring it up again because I feel it’s important for us to challenge ourselves as Canadian citizens: Why aren’t we watching Canadian films? Arts contribute a large part in creating a sense of cultural pride, and films are a huge part of that, but how often do we watch our own films? More importantly, why don’t Canadian films LOOK like they’re Canadian? Why are more and more Canadian movies pretending to be American? You guys know what I’m talking about.

In Canadian films, the characters never talk about where they come from or mention where they are going. The very thought of dialogue saying “I’m from Alberta” or “I’m going to Newmarket” never crosses a writer’s mind or if it does the producers will remove it. No one in our films is reading The Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star (in one film, a bundle of newspapers being delivered was turned upside down to avoid revealing its name), no radio announcer is ever to say, “This is the CBC.” The police are seldom identified by their actual uniforms and the cars they use, no politicians are ever mentioned, no hospitals, schools or public buildings are identified, and seldom a maple leaf flag is seen flying. Contrast this with what we see in American and Québec films. Their filmmakers are delighted to be proud of their places and their society and put it naturally on the screen. Montreal lives constantly as do other places in the province used as locations; when people go abroad and say that they are from Canada the usual response is “Oh! From Montreal?” No one ever asks if a Canadian is from Toronto because no one has ever recognized it on the screen, even though they may have seen flashes of it. The CN Tower should be as well-known as the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, but it is not and the way we hide everything it never will be. Even a silly but outrageously black Vampire comedy from Québec called Karmina gives us a customs inspector saying “Welcome to Canada” and when money changes hands the $5 bill is clearly Canadian, not hidden and not American — as it usually is.

This is quoted from the article titled “Canadian Films: What Are We to Make of Them?” by Gerald Pratley. Actually, 75% of this post will be directly quoted from Pratley, as I think it addresses most of the problems with Canadian films today and gives us a good look at the reality of why the Canadian film industry is lacking identity (and dignity).

Today it is hard to avoid being suffocated in flags and dreary speeches from Ottawa exuding patriotism and telling us what a wonderful country we live in.  Back in the past we let the Americans celebrate their ‘freedom’ four days after Canada Day — we had fish to catch and lakes to swim in, the CBC to listen to, Export A cigarettes to smoke, Maclean’s and the Toronto Star to read — or the daily papers of other cities; and no one twisted themselves into knots wondering who they were and where they were. When therefore, our film producers came on the scene during the fifties they were afraid that such symbols, references and practices, even the people themselves, would be dull subjects to form the basis of profitable movies. Our young independents of those days were left behind, and our English-track producers, the so-called big players, thinking then as they do now, only in terms of the US market, adapted the “international look” — meaning the American look — and stripped away any references to Canada substituting Americanisms instead and passing off Canadian places as being American. This led to a certain amount of public criticism forcing producers to drop overt American references leaving their films to take place in “never-never” lands.

To this day producers are resolutely opposed to making English-speaking Canadian films contain anything that might I’ve away their origin. And have they found success as a result of this in selling their films to the US? Absolutely not, but they never learn and continue to deny us the very trappings of life which make us what we are. The Americans would never sell themselves out as our film and television producers do.

Those moviegoers who do see Canadian pictures must be mystified as to why American players are involved particularly as we have so many good actors of our own who are mostly under-employed.

There are continual complaints being vented by the ‘cultural activists’ (kind of like myself I guess… whoops) about why our films have such a tiny audience. They blame Hollywood for taking up so much screen time leaving us with only 3 per cent. They seem to forget that if the cinemas did not have American films to show they would be forced to close down, putting thousands of employees out of work, because we cannot fill the screens.

There is no joy in creativity for these Canadian producers, no satisfaction in putting Canada on the screen. Their rewards come purely in financial gains. The business of film is one of greed; soulless and without vision, our identity lost and national revelations entirely absent. And now a competitor is on the way in the form of Lionsgate Films of Vancouver. They have announced their intention of making Canadian films; they will no doubt produce films in Canada but it is unlikely they will be about Canada…

Our producers, who are only in film as a business to make money rather than to put their country on the screen, use our small market as a reason to concentrate on pseudo-American films they are certain will show profits from the US market. They seldom do, but producers never learn. To spend more than these sums on a truly Canadian picture is to invite financial loss unless it finds wide public acceptance in this country.

I personally think that what the nonexistent Canadian film industry needs is the right people to make genuinely well done and entertaining Canadian films. If you look over at Québec, they’re not making Wannabe American films, they’re making great Québec  films and people are actually going out to watch them. The Québecers are producing more successful films (financially speaking) because they aren’t pretending to be something they aren’t. And I think it’d be the same deal here in the English-Speaking Canadian provinces, if only there were more producers willing to take a risk. Playing it safe by trying to produce American-like films has always been the demise of the Canadian film industry… We just need the right filmmakers to create genuinely Canadian films that are actually entertaining to watch and that people would want to spend their money on to go see it in theatres.

Maple Syrup does not make a film Canadian. Sticking  a moose in a scene does not make it Canadian. The people of Canada need to be able to relate to these films if we want the people of Canada to be proud to say “This is a Canadian film.” I don’t think I can personally relate to having a moose pass by casually in my backyard.

We do need our films to address the many social issues within Canada, such as the “multicultural” question and the Aboriginals. However, the reason the American film industry is so successful is that it also produces numerous “feel-good” movies that people can relate to. Why don’t we ever see a romantic comedy movie about a couple who live in Toronto? Or a drama based in Vancouver?

So what should we expect to see? Is it too much, too narrow, too parochial, too nationalistic, to then expect that a Canadian film, financed by us, by the state, should be recognizably set in this country and identified as such, written by Canadians, and portrayed by Canadian actors? Many are, but the matter of where they take place is usually blank. The reward of self-recognition among audiences is rare.

What makes a film “Canadian” is not the fact that is was directed by a Canadian, filmed on location in Canada, or that it contains Canadian actors – what makes a film truly worthy of the title “Canadian” is one that is not afraid to reveal that it IS, in fact, Canadian. One that proudly shows off the silhouettes of the Canadian Rockies, the mix of nature and city life in Vancouver, the skyscrapers – the CN tower itself – in Toronto, the european feel of Montreal, The Globe and Mail newspapers, the “Welcome to Canada” sign. A truly Canadian film isn’t hesitant to contain a scene with the Canadian flag itself god damn it.

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