Monday, March 26, 2012

Cultural cringe is crippling contemporary Canadian cinema
Friday, 17 February 2012
By Christine Sirois
For the second year in a row, a Quebec film is putting Canada on the Oscar nomination list. This year, the buzz is for Gatineau-born director Philip Falardeau’s movie Monsieur Lazhar, which is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film category.

Despite the critical praise for Monsieur Lazhar, it is unlikely that many Canadians will have seen it before the awards are handed out on Feb 26. The reason? There’s no incentive for theatre owners to show Canadian films. 

[Note: 98% of all films shown in Canada originate from the USA. (The other 2% are generally from European countries) The American movies are studio driven and pressure is brought to bear on the Canadian theatre chains to show the studio content over anything else available or they won't get the next big blockbuster movie.  For those who go on about "If Canadian movies were worth watching people would be watching them" just isn't true.  Truth is they can't get onto the screens for people to decide if they are worth watching or not. As a result when Canadian movies do get made it is usually for 1/10th or less of the budget most US movies get for even their low budget movies.  Put Canadian projects on par with US projects and you will see that we make better movies than they do!  ~ Joe Thornton]

The nod highlights the divide between French and English cinema in Canada. It is a gap that is created by the structure of the Canadian film industry and reinforced by the reputation of domestic films across the country.

Theatres in Quebec show many French-Canadian-produced films and English films dubbed into French.

However, the language that all but guarantees these home-grown films an audience in Quebec is what also keeps the marketability of these films low in the rest of the country.

Outside of Quebec, there isn’t much money to be made with these movies. French-language films are shown at festivals and in art house cinemas, but for very few screenings to niche audiences.
In English Canada, the phenomenon of “cultural cringe” is what plagues the film industry. Although it is not necessarily true, Canadians reflexively dismiss movies produced here as simply inferior to ones produced by Hollywood studios.

Canadian film means either a hokey character-driven drama or quirky comedy. Think Ivan Reitman’s Meatballs or Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.

In both languages, domestic films are relegated to niche and art-house cinemas for limited runs without much pronouncement.

The negative view of Canadian movies by the public is perpetuated by the movie industry at large.
Unlike radio and television, which both have strict Canadian content regulation, there are no Cancon rules for movie theatres.

 The booking system for theatres is controlled by the Hollywood studio system and Canada is considered part of the American domestic market.

By not showing Canadian-made movies in multiplexes, the film industry communicates to the public that these films aren’t worth your time or money when, quite frankly, they are worth it.
Take the case of Monsieur Lazhar. The film is a gripping story about Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian refugee in Montreal. He is working in a Montreal elementary school as a substitute teacher, following the suicide of his predecessor. Cultural divisions separate him from the students from the start and no one is aware that Lazhar could be deported back to Algeria at any time.

Good cinema is based on emotion, on how and what the audience feels. It has meaning and reflects the values or issues of a certain time. Falardeau’s film does just that.

What it means to be a Canadian is hazy. Movies have always been a tool for self-identification and for cultural definition, but Canada is neglecting this.

One way the country can get a better idea of itself and what it stands for is by looking at itself through the camera’s lens at the stories of its filmmakers.

Falardeau’s Lazhar is a good place to start.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 08 March 2012 )

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