Saturday, December 31, 2011


Greg Klymkiw's CFC presents the TOP TEN HEROES of CANADIAN FILM in 2011

By Greg Klymkiw

(in alphabetical order, by first letter of name/company)

Astron-6: The brilliant Winnipeg-spawned filmmaking collective (Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney and Steven Kosanski) delivered not ONE, but TWO astounding no-budget feature films this year. MANBORG was replete with mega-martial-arts, chase scenes, ATVs that fly, Tron-like arena jousts and plenty of shit that blew up real good. The movie was made for a thousand smackers, shot on glorious DV-CAM and included tons of in-camera and rudimentary effects resembling early 80s community cable blue screen and there is not one damn thing in the movie that looks awful (thanks in good measure to director Steven Kostanski who is also one of the very best special effects geniuses in Canada. Father's Day, is a bum-blasting gore-fest of the highest order wherein a one-eyed, stalwart Jason Statham-like hero kicks mega-butt (as it were) to track down a heinous serial killer from Hades who specializes in sodomizing and butchering hapless Dads. The movie is the ultimate evil bastard child sprung from the loins of a daisy chain twixt Guy Maddin, John Paizs, early David Cronenberg, Herschel Gordon Lewis and Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer. The picture happily combines the effects of asbestos-tinged drinking water in Winnipeg with the Bukkake splatter of the coolest artistic influences imaginable. It was co-produced by the legendary Lloyd Kaufmann and Troma Films and it opens theatrically in New York in January.

Dan Lyon: I am the first person in the world to vigorously slag bureaucrats - in the public, private and non-profit sectors - for a variety of excellent reasons I won't bother going into here (though anyone who reads Chris Hedges or, uh, Franz Kafka, will know why they are, ultimately, evil). Dan Lyon is the head honcho of the Ontario branch of Canada's chief public financing agency Telefilm Canada. By rights, I guess this technically makes him a bureaucrat, but I've never thought of him this way because, frankly, he comes from a very real place in the world of film. Dan toiled away as a chief executive with Astral Films (and its various/subsequent theatrical distribution off-shoots) for mucho-moons. He was, with his late, great colleague, the inimitable Jim Murphy, a huge champion of the much-beloved Canuck feminist werewolf cult film Ginger Snaps and was the first executive IN THE WORLD (I repeat - IN THE WORLD) to pony up real dollars and cents support for Roman Polanski's The Pianist when it was in its earliest stages - a script. When he left the private sector to command the Ontario office of Telefilm Canada he secured two of the film industry's best script editors, Carrie Paubst-Shaughnessy and Anne Fenn, to buttress his team of creative analysts. (I personally had a great deal of experience with Carrie when she brilliantly contributed to the training of a number of young filmmakers I worked with in the area of story editing. As anyone who knows me, KNOWS, I do not suffer fools of any kind and her tutelage was of the highest order - so much so that within minutes after my first encounter with her I was easily able to expunge my usual "Yeah, tell me something I don't know" bile.) I have heard testimonials from innumerable sources - mostly writers (some burgeoning, others seasoned) - to know how valuable Dan and his team are at a creative level. I hope the recent boneheaded changes to Telefilm's feature development policies, which are the result of some head-office bean-counter's vision-bereft survey of trough-gobblers, won't have dire consequences upon the great work this office, under Dan's leadership, will be able to continue. Dan, like the very best executives in the film industry anywhere (in both historic and contemporary contexts) is NOT a bureaucrat. He's a filmmaker. Oh yeah, and he's cool. At a party last year, my wife asked me who Dan was. When I explained briefly that he ran the Ontario Telefilm office, she replied, almost incredulously, "Wow! He's really cool." That is, of course, what this country needs. Fewer nest-featherers with no vision and more cool dudes like Dan. (And thank Jesus H. Christ! Dan's office had NOTHING to do with the cinematic coat hanger abortion that is Passchendaele.)

Donald Shebib: As a movie nut since childhood, I'm happy and proud to say I saw many of the coolest movies in movie theatres in my pre-teen and teen years and they include such counter-culture Canadian pictures by Don Shebib as Rip-Off, Between Friends and yes, his legendary Goin' Down The Road, a movie that practically invented English Canadian cinema with its neorealist portrait of two losers from the Maritimes making their way in the big smoke, Toronto. For me, as a crazed lover of movies, Shebib continued to deliver the goods. I loved Heartaches and Fish Hawk and yes, even Running Brave (which Shebib used a nom-de-plume for his credit). Alas, much of his output for many years was unavailable to me as I gave up cable in the mid-80s and watched virtually no television since that time (where it appears he eventually did much of his later work in). In 2011 Shebib crafted Down the Road Again, a deeply moving and funny sequel that works as a continuation to a movie beloved by so many Canadians, but also works if one has never seen the original. It's a great movie about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friendships that last beyond the grave and most of all, the open roads of this magnificent country, Canada. Shebib's the real thing and I'm grateful he made this movie. I know he'd probably hate such effusive hyperbole, but screw it - I think he's a living patron saint of all of us who thought that maybe, just maybe, we could make movies in this country - movies that spoke to our own experience and that hopefully touched people beyond our borders. I know (yes, I was this much of a geek as a kid) that when I first read, as a youth, Pauline Kael's review of Goin' Down The Road, it infused me with considerable pride. Shebib's the man!

Foresight Features: Foresight Features is a powerhouse new force in Canadian cinema from the wilds of Collingwood. This burgeoning Canadian company produced Exit Humanity (post-Civil War western with… wait for it… ZOMBIES) and the delightful Monster Brawl (a completely whacko mocku-pay-per-view event with… wait for it… WRASSLIN' MONSTERS). These guys (in particular, helmers John Geddes and Jesse T. Cook) are making cool movies with extremely high production value, micro budgets, private financing, tons of sweat equity and no dining at the Telefilm Canada trough. They've signed with Anchor Bay and frankly, one of their productions is a natural for wide exploitation through the Cineplex Entertainment chain. Monster Brawl DEMANDS the biggest support and resources to go into launching this insane movie as a major theatrical special event not unlike the Front Row Centre or big screen wrasslin' matches. I wonder if Cineplex is cool enough to do this BIGTIME? Oh, allow me to add that the two aforementioned features from Foresight collectively include such astonishing cult figures in starring and supporting roles like: Dave (Kids in the Hall) Foley, Art (The Brood, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Face Off) Hindle, Robert (300) Maillet, Jimmy ("The Mouth From The South") Hart, Herb (UFC Martial Artist and Ref) Dean, Kevin (WWE, WCW and TNA Champ) Nash, Lance (FUCKING) Henriksen, Dee (E.T., Cujo, The Howling) Wallace, Stephen (James Dean, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, A History of Violence) McHattie, Bill (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects) Moseley and Brian (the real, the original, the one, the only, the scariest Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann's Manhunter) Cox. If Foresight isn't about showmanship, then nothing is.

Guy Maddin and George Toles: In this year of Our Lord 2011, Canadian cinema's national treasure delivered the utterly insane feature film Keyhole, a tantalizing amalgam of Warner Brothers gangster styling of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and 50s, Greek tragedy, Sirk-like melodrama, odd dapplings of Samuel Beckett’s "Endgame", Jean-Paul Sartre’s "No Exit" and, of course, male genitals - starring Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier and the incomparable Louis Negin. By extension, his longtime screenwriter George Toles shares the heroism of cinema I loft in Maddin's direction. He's a great writer, a brilliant critic, a superb actor and theatre director and frankly, the best goddamn teacher of film, theatre and English Literature in this country. In 2011, let us also not forget that Maddin presided over the madness of two astonishing productions of his cult classic Tales From The Gimli Hospital at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Lincoln Centre in New York that featured an original score, played live with musicians and singers, live narration by Udo Kier, live soundscape and foley and in one of the shows, live projections. Nobody, and I mean NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-BODY, makes movies like Guy Maddin. Yeah, full disclosure (blah-blah-blah), I produced his first three features, was his Oscar Madison-like roommate long ago in the 'Peg and overall pal amongst the 'Peg Drones that slacked as if our lives depended on it, benignly stalked young ladies we didn't know (nor ever would), haunted cafes, record stores, flea markets, drank cocoa whilst spinning 78 recordings of fruity tenors, taking midnight drives to Lockport and Gimli whilst playing Paul Whiteman or Bing Crosby or Edith Day full blast on tapedecks and committing to 13-hour pilgrimages on the open road to Minneapolis to see Twins games, but screw it! First and foremost, I'm his biggest fan! And damn! He makes great movies!

Independent Canadian Exhibitors (The Royal, Revue, Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Canadian Film Institute, Pacific Cinematheque, etc.), Alliance Cinemas, AMC Theatres, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF), Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and pretty much anyone who publicly exhibits films except the "proudly Canadian" (self-proclaimed) Cineplex Inc.: I saw Don Shebib's classic Canadian feature Goin' Down the Road when I was a kid at a huge first-run theatre in Winnipeg. I loved it then and loved it more every time I saw it. When I heard Shebib had crafted a sequel, I was imbued with a bit of healthy skepticism. That said, I was still excited to see it. I was out of town for the first two weeks of the film's theatrical run at Cineplex's flagship Toronto venue, the Varsity Cinema. When I returned during the film's third week of release, I hightailed it down to the Varsity (not bothering to check the showtimes as is my wont) and was shocked (genuinely) that it wasn't playing. I quickly accessed my iPhone movie listings and was even more distressed that the movie, at least for that evening, was playing absolutely nowhere in Toronto. There was, however, one lone screening the following evening at the Royal cinema, everyone's favourite indie venue in Little Italy. What shocked me even more was that Barbara Willis Sweete's film adaptation of Billy Bishop Goes To War was the other film playing at the Royal the same evening - first run and ENDING!!! Okay, my fault for being out of town, I guess. Excuse me all to hell for expecting movies with a reasonable pedigree by Canadian standards were (a) not available on any Cineplex screen in the country's largest city and that (b) they were both ending.

No matter, I sashayed on down the next night to The Royal. I really enjoyed Billy Bishop. I first experienced it as a kid in Winnipeg when John Gray and Eric Peterson presented the play at the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Warehouse venue. I loved it then and was delighted to see a film that preserved its theatrical roots. (I won't rant about one of my many pet-peeves involving the idiotic, myopic assumption on the part of critics and film types who should know better that anything and everything based upon a theatrical piece MUST be opened up for the cinema. Just don't get me started and I promise to stop now.) My first thought was, "Hmmm, there are wads upon wads of people my age and older who love this play ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY. This would have been a perfect film to platform wide in the Front Row Centre-styled exhibition format that Cineplex has been exploiting in big cities and beyond." I played out a release pattern for the film in my mind whilst waiting for the Shebib to begin: Coast-to-coast, hugely hyped one-shot screenings of the film at the premium Front Row Centre prices. You'd have to blow a decent whack o' dough on advertising, BUT, with the same kind of thought and elbow grease that USED to go into marketing ANY movies (never mind Canadian films), there would be all sorts of alternate advertising venues with far more reasonable ad rates than traditional outlets anyway. As well, there would be an inordinate number of cross-promotions and tie-ins with theatre companies and arts groups across the country. Hell, target theatre schools also - not just including private companies, or even secondary schools, but given that virtually every post-secondary institution has a theatre program, promote the picture there. In any event, my fantasy release of Billy Bishop then included regular screenings one week later in many of the same venues it played at in the Front Row Centre release. Those post-Front-Row screenings may or may not have had numbers to sustain the secondary runs that long, BUT, the important thing is that Canadians would have been able to see the movie on a BIG SCREEN in a COMMUNAL ENVIRONMENT. This, in turn, would have created a far more advantageous bed of hype and anticipation for any number of home entertainment venues.

Alas, the way the movie was released feels like home penetration was the only real goal.

Whose fault was it?

Well, as of this writing, I can't be sure if the film's distributor considered this sort of theatrical penetration, nor do I know if they even offered the movie to Cineplex. What I can say is this. SOMEONE should have thought about it and SOMEONE should have committed to playing it in this fashion. In fact, give the success of these types of special event showings in the Cineplex chain, you'd think someone there might have thought about approaching the film's distributor about mounting the film in this fashion.

Here's the thing. The business has changed for the worst, but it's not impossible to reapply good old fashioned showmanship on both sides of the distribution and exhibition fence. I started my life in this business as both a writer ABOUT movies and then as a film buyer on behalf of independent exhibitors in the late 70s and early 80s. I lived through the "old ways", lamented the shift in delivery and accessibility of product and now I get absolutely livid when I see how complacent and lazy both sides have become.

Down the Road Again was an entirely different story. I loved the picture, but also conceded its theatrical appeal would be limited. Limited, yes - but there is an audience out there that would have loved to see the movie on a big screen. Part of this IS a distribution issue. However, I also think Canada's major exhibitor is shirking its place in creating a proper venue for Canadian cinema. I'm sure they'd argue that their responsibility is to their shareholders. Well, never mind Canadian movies, those shareholders are going to have very little to count on if things don't change in the exhibition industry. And yes, it IS the fault of exhibition - especially within major chains like Cineplex. They offer no real choice. Pure and simple. They rest on the laurels of whatever crap they're handed. (I live for much of the year in a remote rural area. Cineplex has a seven-screen multiplex. All the same movies are locked in there for ages. I can assure you that in the late 70s and early 80s, the small market audiences had FAR more CHOICE in what was available than they do now. And idiotically, it's not that the product is NOT there. There's tons of product. Much of it good and much of it never getting screen time. Yes, having to program and promote such product takes time and effort. Yeah? So? Do it. They call it elbow grease.

As for Canadian product, I will ultimately point an accusatory finger at Cineplex. Every major country outside of North America had or continues to have strict indigenous content quotas. Many of these countries have leaps and bounds on Canada by decades in this respect. Many of these same countries are making indigenous product that appeals to their national audiences and, in many cases, to international audiences. Much of this product isn't of the blockbuster variety, either. It often provides entertainment to niche audiences - theatrically. These audiences exist because efforts had been made in the past to ensure cultural sovereignty. These movies mostly do NOT compete with Hollywood, anyway. In fact, they enhance the viability and attraction to theatrical exhibition period.

I do not propose legislating this anyway. I frankly think it would be good for business if Cineplex undertook a major corporate responsibility in exhibiting Canadian films - EVEN IF THEY LOSE MONEY! Oh horrors! Isn't that horrible? Look, Down the Road Again needed far more marketing and promotion than it got. This is a distribution issue. That said, movies like this will NEVER find a theatrical audience if they are not out there. I personally think a movie like Shebib's sequel DEMANDED being placed in more cinemas across the country and held longer - even at a loss. Take one screen in every bloody multiplex and screen Canadian product exclusively. Take another screen in every bloody multiplex and program product of an indie nature exclusively - booking it, if necessary in a repertory style.

Cineplex is a Canadian company.

Forgive me for thinking Canada is different than our neighbours to the south. We are. We have higher literacy rates, more progressive values AND most of all, we ARE innovators. Cineplex should FORCE themselves to exhibit Canadian films - even at a loss. (I'm sure there are potential tax incentives that can be whipped up for this anyway.) Why, you say, at a loss? Because there could well be a pot at the end of the rainbow. If the product - good, bad, middle of the road - is made available on a consistent basis, audiences might eventually develop a thirst for a certain type of product that speaks to THEM. Look, it's worked everywhere else in the world - out there, beyond the confines of North America.

It was, however, legislated. I say again - why legislate? Cineplex as the most powerful exhibitor in the country should legislate it as cultural policy within their corporate mandate. They could actually become world leaders in this extraordinary move to actively build an audience. More importantly, they could take a leadership role even beyond Canadian product and offer theatrical accessibility to a far wider range of product. This, frankly, is good for Canada, good for foreign product, good for Hollywood, good for AMERICAN independents, good for cinema as the greatest artistic medium of all time and MOST IMPORTANTLY, good for the end-users, the customers, the myriad of movie lovers who have been lured away from the communal experience for many different reasons, but most of all, because of a lack of diversity in programming.

In the meantime, though, let us pause and acknowledge the true heroes of Canadian theatrical exhibition. It sure ain't Cineplex - at least until they consider getting their act together on this front. Canadian product has had a home at all my aforementioned picks for heroism accolades. Alliance Cinemas, AMC Theatres, Independent Canadian Exhibitors (The Royal, Revue, Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Canadian Film Institute, Pacific Cinematheque, etc.) all regularly screen Canadian films - both first-run and second. TIFF Bell Lightbox in just over a year has displayed incredible courage and commitment to screening Canadian product theatrically. In 2011, the tiny, fan-run Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) screened what must be a record number of Canadian genre films (features and shorts) - many of them winners. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) also continues a leadership role in supporting Canadian film - not just with festival screenings, but such important initiatives as the Film Circuit (bringing fine cinema from Canada and the world to rural locales) and their ongoing work archiving and contributing to the restoration of Canadian cinema. Heroes deserving of special mention in the organization for this year would include Steve Gravestock who oversees all matters Canuckian, Colin Geddes who does Midnight Madness and selected whack-job stuff in other serctions and the incomparable Julie Lofthouse in the TIFF film reference Library.

Good on TIFF and all the aforementioned, but whose turn it is now? Allow me to quote directly for the Cineplex website:

"Cineplex Inc. ("Cineplex") is the largest motion picture exhibitor in Canada and owns, leases or has a joint-venture interest in 130 theatres with 1,352 screens serving approximately 70 million guests annually. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Cineplex operates theatres from British Columbia to Quebec and is the exclusive provider of UltraAVX™ and the largest exhibitor of digital, 3D and IMAX projection technologies in the country. Proudly Canadian and with a workforce of approximately 10,000 employees, the company operates the following top tier brands: Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy, Famous Players, Colossus, Coliseum, SilverCity, Cinema City and Scotiabank Theatres. Cineplex shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the symbol "CGX"."

Great! Let's see some of the real leadership and innovation that makes so many Canadians proud of Canada. Cineplex declares they're "Proudly Canadian". Great. Let's see it. For real.

Ingrid Veninger: I've said it before, I'll say it again - Ingrid Veninger might well be cinema’s only living equivalent to a whirling dervish. Like a dervish, she honours her Creator (cinema), her prophets (John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh and others of a very noble tradition), then whips her imaginary concoctions into a frenzy – literally living and breathing cinema – producing work from within herself, her devotion and life in all its joy and sadness. In addition to be a terrific actress, she's one of our country's most visionary producers and her astounding work here includes Charles Officer's Nurse Fighter Boy (which she co-wrote also) and Peter Mettler's mind blowing Gambling, Gods and LSD. She's a teacher and mentor to all those with passion and a desire to create cinema. This year, she delivered up her third feature i am a good person/i am a bad person, a micro-budgeted romp through the European film festival circuit that tells a funny and moving Mother-Daughter story. The picture is full of humour, gentle bits of human comedy and (surprisingly) full-on Bridesmaids-style blowjob and scatological knee-slappers. A worthy addition to her rapidly accelerating canon of features as a director including Only (which she co-directed with Simon Reynolds) and Modra.

Jody Shapiro and Robin Cass: These two gentlemen produced two of the best Canadian films of 2011. Shapiro delivered the goods with Guy Maddin's Keyhole and Cass did what everyone said couldn't/shouldn't be done. In so doing, he produced a terrific sequel to one of the most beloved, iconographic Canadian films of all time, Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road followup Down the Road Again. Cass, with his Triptych Media partner Anna Stratton continue to place their faith in our country's writers. Shapiro, is also some kind of wonderful - a great photographer and director in his own right and a lover of cool movies. With producers like these, I still hold out hope that Canada as a filmmaking force will explode.

Sarah Polley: Earlier this year, within the context of a cinematic tribute to the late Jack Layton in the UK-based Electric Sheep Magazine, I had the opportunity to finally put into words why I love Sarah Polley. I'll reprint them here now because she really is, to my mind one of our country's great heroes. Sarah is not only one of the best actors in Canada, but she has proven to be one of the country's best filmmakers, serving up the astounding short drama I Shout Love, the tremendously moving Academy Award-nominated Away from Her and her soon-to-be-released Take This Waltz starring one of the world’s most gifted Canadian funny men, Seth Rogen. Sarah Polley is a maverick. I love mavericks and I most certainly love Sarah. As if she isn’t/wasn’t busy enough, Sarah always made time for ‘the little guy’. Since her earliest years, the former child star of Terry (out-of-his-fucking-mind) Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the beloved family TV drama Road to Avonlea Polley had maverick qualities and activism hard-wired into her genetic code. For example, at the height of its popularity, Polley up and left Avonlea in protest over the increasing ‘Americanization’ of the Canadian series produced by Canuck Kevin Sullivan in collaboration with Disney. And, speaking of Disney, it’s been reported that she attended some public function the Mouse-Eared conglomerate was sponsoring and refused a dim-witted studio executive’s demand that she remove a peace-sign button affixed to her blouse. Who needs peace when you can start another useless fucking war? Through her teens and 20s Sarah continued to confound and delight movie fans the world over as she blossomed into adulthood – engaging in several political protests wherein she was physically assaulted by goons (uh, the fine members of Toronto’s Police Department), while on the silver screen she performed some truly major-zombie-ass-kicking in Zack Snyder’s surprisingly effective remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and butted heads with a crazed creature created from gelatinous amphibian goo cloned with her character’s own DNA in Vincenzo Natali’s deliciously fucked-in-the-head monster movie Splice. Sarah became revered and respected as one of our country’s most powerful and persuasive activists and artists. Socially, politically and culturally, Sarah Polley has led the way on so many fronts and, I might add, NOT in that annoyingly fashionable way contemporary Hollywood stars have done. Sarah was an activist early on in her life – long before celebrity activism became so degraded. She came by it truthfully, honestly and one might even say, innocently. Like the late Jack Layton, she has always fought for the rights of what’s genuinely right. She’s also funny and has one of the most perverse senses of humour I’ve ever encountered. Sarah Polley is probably one of 10 people on this planet who actually gets the insanely muted knee-slappers that Atom Egoyan occasionally dollops like globs of rich sour cream into the dour, though flavourful borscht of his movies. She’s also a thoughtful and generous human being. She's a star, but she sure doesn't act like one. And I do love her seemingly ages-old belief in a quota for Canadian theatrical features. She kicks ass! There's nobody like her.

S. Wyeth Clarkson: I first met Wyeth Clarkson in 1997 when he was studying editing. He was a GREAT editor. His instincts were pure, his craft impeccable and most of all, he was a filmmaker - first and foremost. As the years progressed, he partnered with his visionary pal Phil Daniels and together they formed Travesty Productions and have since produced several features, documentaries and shorts. 2011 was the year he brought to bear his most ambitious project to date. The Mountie is an old fashioned western replete with a strange blend of 70s cynicism, grit and, I kid you not lush panoramas and a weirdly affecting sentimental streak that would have made John Ford proud. It's a solid picture and one that Canadians would have enjoyed on a big screen - if they could find it. Clarkson took the figure of the Mountie, Canada's iconic red-coated crime-fighter and imbued it with a sense of myth that was both unabashedly Canadian and yet presented in homage to a myriad of great western traditions. His dream was to open the movie nationwide on Canada Day long weekend. It was, from an exhibition standpoint a total no-brainer. What happened was (apologies to his company's monicker) a travesty. Pictures speak louder than words, however, so let's examine this from that standpoint. As a Canadian, if I saw the following trailer repeatedly splashed in front of every movie I saw for two or three months before it opened, I'd have been there on Canada Day where it should have been - on a few hundred screens coast to coast. I doubt I'd have been alone. That, of course, would only have been possible if Cineplex Inc. had the guts to truly be "proudly Canadian" and programmed this trailer and subsequently, the film itself, with the same vigour as they do with Hollywood blockbusters people are avoiding like the plague. If Cineplex had any courage and vision to do this, the release would have no doubt received a huge amount of Prints and Ads support from Telefilm Canada. Watch this trailer. Okay, so now you've seen it. If you're into genre pictures and a Canadian, I defy you to tell me you wouldn't have been curious to lay down your dollars and see this movie in a theatre. What Clarkson ended up with was a handful of screens - mostly on AMC and/or independents, plus a prints and ads budget commensurate with such a small release. The numbers weren't great, but they were surprisingly on a par, if not higher than a number of Hollywood releases within the same multiplexes. Clarkson pushed and pushed to get screens. He got them, but not what he imagined and certainly not what he deserved. He made a cool movie that is even cooler in light of the fact that Canada, as a nation, strapped on extremely comfy kneepads during the Golden Age of Hollywood and struck a deal with the devil. Hollywood basically said, "Hey Canada, don't make feature films. Make documentaries and animated movies and educational films. Let US make movies about Canada. It'll be good for tourism." Canada swallowed this jism greedily and we ended up with no feature film policy and no quota system (unlike virtually every other major country in the world). What Hollywood produced in this deal worthy of Mephistopheles were hundreds of sub-par B-movies set in Canada, featuring some second unit or stock footage of Canada and often about - you guessed it - MOUNTIES!!! Good deal, Canada.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that flooding the screens with trailers for Canadian movies and ensuring screen time for said Canadian films is going to be the immediate solution, but given that Canada NEVER had an official policy (beyond the National Film Board of Canada) on feature film during the first 60-or-so years of cinema's history, something has to start somewhere.

A few years ago, sitting in the Cineplex flagship Varsity Cinema in Toronto, I watched a mediocre horror picture that had a decent, though not exceptionally large audience. Earlier that day I had just seen a trailer for Paul Fox's terrific Canadian horror picture The Dark Hours in a private screening. If Cineplex had exercised their corporate responsibility to Canadian film culture and played the trailer in front of every crappy and/or (God forbid!) good genre film and agreed to open the movie in more than ONE cinema in Toronto as they grudgingly did, I'd bet most people seeing the trailer would have been thrilled to go see the movie when it opened. Take a look. Again, I defy anyone who loves genre pictures to say they wouldn't have seen the movie after seeing that trailer, especially if Cineplex had committed to a whack o' screens which, in turn, would have given the distributor incentive to spend the money needed to hype it (and in fact, get a good whack of the dough to do this from Telefilm Canada).

Another example of 'Twas not to be.

That said, Wyeth Clarkson continues to fight the good fight - lobbying for accessibility to Canadian cinema on Canadian screens. Most of all, though, he's writing a new screenplay. Let's hope that by the time that movie is ready to be seen, there WILL be a system in place to provide the accessibility that Canadian films (and, in fact, all indie productions from a variety of countries) deserve.


  1. Awesome and inspiring list, Greg! As a Canadian immigrant and a filmmaker, it pains me to watch Canadian film goers and distribution avenues snubbing their own product, especially when so much good quality comes out of Canadian filmmakers. Its no wonder the general outlook of Canadian film is negative.
    Let me add one more person to your top 10 - Anita Adams, founder of the 1st Weekend Club (with offices in Toronto and Vancouver), creator of the first online Canadian VOD service (currently in beta), and a tireless advocate of Canadian Feature Films. I have had the pleasure of working with her (along honorable mentions Paul Armstrong of the Celluloid Social Club and Tiška Wiedermann of Raindance Toronto) promoting the theatrical releases of Canadian films, and let me tell you, I know very few people (other than your top 10!) with as much passion to nurture and galvanize a sustainable, domestic Canadian film industry! Thank you for this highly entertaining and incredibly honest article - I look forward to reading more of your stuff. They leave me feeling very optimistic about my choice of moving to this country to pursue a filmmaking career!
    Onward and Upward,
    Javier Badillo

  2. Thank you, Javier, for your kind words about the piece and your most gracious assessment of both Canada and its films. I'm a great admirer of the 1st Weekend Club. That said, I've been seeking an organization with the guts and tenacity to stand up to corporations like Cineplex and challenge them to take on what should be a CORPORATE responsibility. VOD, etc. may well get Canadian work before the eyes of Canadians, but theatrical exposure must always, to my mind, be the first and foremost goal. All the best to you, Greg