Last Tuesday evening saw the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema full of curious show-goers intent on witnessing a live episode of the break out podcast “Canadaland”; podcast creator and Canadian journalist Jesse Brown hosted the evening, with special guest Jay Baruchel.
Brown began the show with a confession: in the past three years, he has not once paid for a Canadian film. In an effort to further prove his point, he presented the audience with a poster for the movie Space Milkshake, and asked whether or not anyone recognized it. When faced with a crowd of nonplussed faces, Brown explained Space Milkshake is one of many films made in Canada, by Canadians, which never actually made its way to Canadian theatres.
With Space Milkshake serving as just one of many examples, Brown’s confession rings true for many Canadians. In Canada, Canadian films gain little notoriety compared to the American film market. Chances are, if you head over to your local Cineplex chain, the headline screenings will all be American, with the occasional French or British film thrown into the mix.
Trying to get to the bottom of all this, Brown began the search by suggesting a problem with how Canadian films are received by critics. Since the Canadian government funds most Canadian films, Brown suggests that critics are reluctant to bash films that have been so graciously supported by our government. Therefore, rather than criticize a mediocre Canadian film, critics will essentially give it an A for effort, allowing bad movies to get good reviews. As Brown puts it, the problem lies in the fact that critics conclude that there is no problem.
Adding fuel to the fire, Baruchel was quick to point out that Canadian actors like Ryan Gosling or Ellen Page will often act in American-based movies rather than their Canadian counterparts. Speaking from personal experience, he attributes this decision to a lack of creativity and originality in Canadian scripts that often scare off actors and actresses. Clever tactics to showcase trailers and clips are taken quite seriously in the United States, while in Canada some films don’t even bother investing in a poster.
Brown and Baruchel both agree that culture plays a major part in filmmaking. Canadian identity can be seen as a conglomerate of various ideas and influences from other cultures, and while this leaves more room for interpretation and creativity with which to express Canadian culture, the ambiguity has left filmmakers confused about how to best represent it. Without a distinct direction from which to approach issues that affect Canadians, the lifestyle portrayed on screen quickly loses its appeal.
As the podcast came to a close, Baruchel and Brown finished by advising the audience to actively seek out films in places like The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema to help support our crumbling industry. Rather than watching Canadian films as though it’s your homework, Baruchel says, try finding something you may actually enjoy.