“We talk about Canadian cinema, as if it exists.” This was apparently said by film critic Brain D. Johnson in 2003.
I read this quote in the introduction of George Melnyk’s One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema and found it very…apt. Starting this book is my latest effort to learn more about Canadian cinema. Johnson’s quote makes me feel like I’m about to study ghosts. Canadian cinema, ghosts, do they even really exist?
National cinematic styles are inseparable from national identities. This is why when I think of American film, I first think of high-budget, narrative, and often violent films. When I think of British film, I think of documentaries, historical dramas, and satire. When I think about Canadian film, I squint my eyes and pause because I can’t pin it down. Perhaps this is because it’s more difficult to generalize your own culture. Make no mistake, these are all generalizations, but interesting nonetheless.
So far, it seems Melnyk is taking the ‘fruit cake approach’. Compared to America’s cultural conforming melting pot, Canada is a fruit cake (because as usual we define our identity by differentiating ourselves from the Americans). So, instead of melting cultures together, Canadians try to preserve cultures like little fruits in a Canada cake. Some people say mosaic, or salad, but I say fruit cake! Anyway, it’s been fairly common to divide Canadian film into Quebecois film, Indigenous film, and Anglo film. Melnyk likes dividing it into European-Influenced film and American-Influenced film. Nowadays, I suspects there’s more crossovers through these divides for filmmakers (ex. people born outside of Quebec making ‘Quebecois films’) and for audiences. However, it’s helpful from a historical perspective.
To me, the big question with Canadian film is who are the audiences? It’s strange, but the average Canadian probably isn’t the average viewer of Canadian films. I was volunteering at the Gimli Film Festival this last summer. Many of my fellow volunteers were elderly women. One very friendly woman was frustrated that she could not conveniently find Canadian films to watch. I pointed out that Netflix has a section of Canadian films, not that I had watched any of them. It’s not a large section, but more than Cineplex will ever offer.
The follow up question is are there really any audiences? Besides this woman and a few others, do people want to watch Canadian film? I don’t know, but I plan to be a new audience member.
Thanks for reading!