Take another look at Canadian film

Independent film gives national industry a second wind

The Breadwinner explores family life in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan
Credit: 
Screenshot from Youtube.

Although you might solely associate Canadian film with the perpetuation of the Canadian stereotype — lumberjack-looking men moping in the woods – there’s so much more to the national industry that’s often overlooked.

Sometimes it feels like it’s not worth investing your time in exploring Canadian film because people tend to think so lowly of it. That being said, some of this year’s top releases prove it’s worth taking a second look at the Canadian film industry.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a documentary that explores Indigenous influences on some of the greatest pop stars in history. The film features Jimi Hendrix, Taj Mahal, Martin Scorsese and many others talking about how Indigenous peoples have changed the music industry from the get-go.

The film won awards at Sundance and Hot Docs this year, and for good reason – it’s beautifully made, with stunning visuals and an equally powerful soundtrack.

The clever storytelling sheds light on an often overlooked part of music history – this is especially important in today’s context, where there is seemingly a growing focus on reconciliation and acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and their history.

Montréal-based company Rezolution Pictures produced the film, but it gained international attention. The film has garnered rave reviews from critics all over the world and proves that investing in the Canadian film industry isn’t always going to be a financial flop.

Likewise, The Breadwinner, an animated film based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, premiered this month at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and has already been given shining reviews. The film tells the tale of a young girl in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan that must dress like a boy to support her family.

Though the jury is still out as to whether or not it will be a financial success, it’s undoubtedly an important piece of art.

What this speaks to is the fact that Canadian film has been, and always will be interesting and important. The idea that the Canadian film industry is lackluster and dying in popularity seems to be based on the idea that Canadian films often don’t reach the same financial status Hollywood films do and therefore aren’t worth watching.

But financial success isn’t the only determining factor of what makes a good film. Quality content exists on this side of the border and can be seen in places Canadians often overlook like independent screening rooms and festivals.

There are also a lot of films that do well artistically, socially and financially that aren’t commonly recognized as being Canadian films. Beatriz at Dinner, for example, a dark comedy about an immigrant woman having dinner at the house of the man who colonized her people in Mexico, was produced in collaboration by New York-based Killer Films and BC-based Bron Studios.

The latter motion picture company also produced film Fences (nominated for 96 awards, 29 of which they won), and the highly controversial The Birth of a Nation in collaboration with US based companies — the point here being that Canadian artists do well, whether it’s in America or Canada.

What this also points to is the “brain drain”, where talented Canadian artists leave the country to pursue new opportunities in other, more visibly successful film industries. It’s so much easier to fund and make a film, as well as find an audience in Hollywood, so many Canadian artists move. But we can make Canada a better place for film.

It starts with an audience. Support your local and national artists, whether it’s The Breadwinner or Beatriz at Dinner or another exciting up-and-comer. As well, support your local movie theatre, because the best place to find Canadian films is always going to be at the indie theatres that cheer them on. Give Canadian films a chance; there’s some good stuff out there that may surprise you.

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