The Self-Absorbed Cinema

As a Canadian, I am saddened to admit that Canada’s film industry is in a state of shambles–and it has been for a long time. Many different factors can be blamed for this, from its reliance on government funding, to the overshadowing effect of Hollywood.

The Canadian film industry is often referred to as the invisible cinema, and while this holds true for some aspects of our industry, a more fitting description would be the self-absorbed cinema.

It is very common for film critics to generalize when it comes to Canadian cinema, as there is so little produced here that when something significant is created it becomes an ambassador for the cinema. It is because of this that Canada has become known for films that explore sexuality in extreme ways. This is due to two of Canada’s great filmmakers, David Cronenberg’s and Atom Egoyan’s commonly explored themes. However, they are the exception to the rule and what seems even more prevalent in Canadian cinema than sexuality, is self-obsession.

This seems like a minor thing to make out as a big deal, however it is our obsession with our own culture that keeps our film industry down. The small number of Canadian films that do make it onto the big screens are too often focussed on rehashing the tired and inaccurate stereotypes that all Canadians have heard before.

The great Canadian films do not accept the stereotypical notions about our culture, instead they explore what it means to be Canadian. Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a great example of a film that delves headfirst into our relationship with America and its media influence. It never relies on cultural stereotypes instead it wants to explore and determine the truth. Similarly, Guy Maddin’s brilliant My Winnipeg explored what it means to grow up in Canada, without ever falling back on stereotypes. It is an intensively personal and Canadian film, yet universal in that it shows truth instead of inaccurate beliefs. Unfortunately, films like Videodrome and My Winnipeg are one in a million.

Most often, the Canadian films that do receive theatrical distribution in Canada are comedies. The 2006 bilingual hit Bon Cop, Bad Cop and the more recent Score: A Hockey Musical are both films that define the problematic Canadian approach to cinema. Both of these films, as well as many other Canadian films, including the upcoming Breakaway, centre around hockey and feature distracting cameos from Canadian stars. Instead of having a real interest in Canadian culture, they simply promote paper-thin stereotypes. These types of references keep the films from being accessible internationally, and interesting here.

Of course this is not true for all Canadian cinema, as we do have truly talented Canadian voices. Filmmakers like Sarah Polley, Guy Maddin and Denis Villeneuve are all creating unique and powerful pieces of Canadian cinema that do not rely on cheap cameos and tired plot lines. And while there are great filmmakers working in Canada today, it is still all too common for the “major” Canadian releases to be familiar for all the wrong reasons. With Hollywood having complete dominance in Canada, our self-obsession is doing nothing to help our industry move out of tedium and into multiplexes.

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