Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Conversation on Canadian Cinema

While the big studios of Western filmmaking are usually associated with America, more and more filmmakers flock to Canada. In the biggest cities – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – an increasing amount of films are being shot in and around the Canadian epicentres. With all the success the three big cities have had with industry business it does not affect the filmmakers born and raised in Canada. On the contrary, the work of contemporary Canadian filmmakers has gone against the fierce American tide and is always unique and personal. This year’s 66th Cannes Film Festival brings two Québécois directors (Sébastien Pilote and Chloé Robichaud) and one Saskatonian (Jefferson Moneo), all with work inherently native.

For years Canadian cinema has been criticised for not embracing its culture and roots. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz starred American-born actors, The Statement in 2003 was lead by Michael Caine and a film like Porky’s is unrecognisable as a Canadian product. Some directors are clearly interested in venturing out but this year’s group of Canadian directors at Cannes are wonderfully in favour of their homeland for shooting. Robichaud stated, “I wanted my first feature to be set in my hometown. I wanted to show that landscape – it’s part of what I see every day” Moneo and Pilote added to this impulse with the former saying “I’ve zero interesting in filming in a city or in America.” Additionally, Pilote supplied his thoughts about the advantages of his country’s film industry - “I was at Sundance at one point and standing beside an American filmmaker [and] I felt like a king because our country has such easy access to funding (even if it’s not always easy to get it). It’s a public investment in Canada (as it’s from taxes) but in America it’s all private and you have to pay it back or else you lose your house!”

During one Canadian talent panel talk at Cannes all three directors discussed and highlighted their shared experiences with community filmmaking and funding. They all praised the financial support available whilst also mentioning the difficulties. Robichaud talked about the “struggle getting financed”; the young filmmaker also shed light on the independent side of things whereby she used her own money when funding might have been too tough to acquire. In spite of occasional problems, Moneo recognised the benefits of Canadian funding. He asserted that, “Financing is difficult in Canada but I go to film school in America and it’s lot more difficult for them than it is for us. We know where we need to go to get a film funded but down there it’s all private investment so they’ve got to put a lot more effort into trying to track down funding than we do. We’re definitely looking at a smaller piece of pie.”

Canada may be a much larger country than the USA but its film industry is far smaller. The aforementioned pie cannot feed all of the young new Canadian filmmakers as America’s often can. Not able to produce as many features, shorts and programmes as the US, Canada has therefore continually struggled with getting a wide audience. So close to a country famed with releasing thousands of box-office successes, Canada is still slightly overshadowed by its US neighbour. Despite this, however, every year Canadian cinema brings forth a new and well-received gem. As Sébastien Pilote was keen to point out, “For three years we’ve been at the Oscars for Best Foreign language film [War Witch, Monsieur Lazhar, Incendies] which is amazing for us being such a small province [Quebec]. So it’s an amazing time for Canadian cinema right now.” This string of critical triumph is not just limited to awards ceremonies either, and festivals all over the world are supportive of the country’s work. Cannes is one such festival, with this year bringing back Pilote, Robichaud and Moneo from previous years there, as well as several other shorts directors. Taking a trip to the Canadian pavilion in the International Village you are among not just two or three visitors, but scores of guests and talent.

At the 66th Festival de Cannes the Canadian work aims to highlight the bountiful landscape and artists. All wanted to show their hometowns in their new films. Robichaud and Pilote within the Quebec region offer French-speaking dramas, straight-forward with their presentation of their homeland. Moneo, on the other hand, wants to shake impressions up as he ruminates that “people often think of rural Canada as this beautiful, pastoral landscape yet I’ve always thought of it as very strange and the people (even though my family’s there) very odd...[There’s] a slight mystery in that landscape that’s fun to shoot and fun to explore.” Showing or subverting the land of their country will doubtlessly aid Canada’s commercial and critical push forward – showing people the various environments for education and entertainment. In the end, the three directors (and more) are doing so exceptionally well with their respective films, extending the path Canadian cinema is taking to reach out to a huge audience.

Published in Nisimazine Cannes 2013 (page 37)

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