Dorland, Magder, & Telefilm’s Plans for the Future

In the second paragraph of Michael Dorland’s introductory essay to The Cultural Industries in Canada: Problems, Policies and Prospects (the three p’s listed in fitting order), he proclaims, “It has been Canada’s geographical fate to be located in the northerly half of North America, alongside the United States, whose […] rise to global pre-eminence [has] affected Canada in myriad and complex ways” (1996, ix). Undeniably, the cinematic output of our neighbours to the South have not only overwhelmed the Canadian cultural presence in cinema (and television, for that matter, although we don’t seem to be doing quite so badly when it comes to music), but also our nation’s approach to how we produce our own films.

It seems, however, when we consider this issue that the majority of what’s written is focused primarily on the effect of American influence on English-speaking Canada, whereas the concerns of Quebecois and Inuit audiences is rarely, if at all, mentioned or fully explored. That’s not to say that I think either of those identities aren’t also similarly in harm’s way of cultural obliteration, but that the little I know about either at least seems to hint at a somewhat healthier, more hopeful picture. Granted, while I know somewhat more about Quebecois cinema than I do about films from high up North, it’s easy to don somewhat rose coloured glasses as to the potential inherent in both areas when one considers the international attention and acclaim given to films like The Barbarian Invasions and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. As English-speaking Canadians, we have the least resistance and cultural protection against American cinema – unlike much of Europe, we’re not even protected by the additional filter of a difference in language.

What I found most intriguing about Ted Magder’s Film and Video Production was his summation of the Canadian film industry as, “an industry with two faces” (1996, 174). Even we refer most often to the indigenous Canadian film identity in self-effacing reference to Katherine Monk’s book-length study, Weird Sex and Snowshoes, and that part of the industry bears very little in common with the other face of it as described by Magder as one, “tanned by the California sunshine, […] eager and able to exploit the international marketplace […] Canadian only by virtue of the workers they employ” (1996, 174). The notion of Canadian films as difficult, dull, and dreary in contrast with the more exciting and vibrant American counterpart is one that Canadians ourselves propagate in some of our own productions – when producing something more in line with the American model, we most often disguise our cities and scenery as belonging elsewhere. Our America is more beautiful than theirs (not to mention far cheaper to film in).

Considering Erik Canuel’s Bon Cop, Bad Cop in this light reveals a film so American in execution that it feels as though it’s merely masquerading as Canadian. Sure, the language jokes wouldn’t particularly work quite so effectively with audiences below the border (although I’ve always wondered just what a good ole boy in the Southern States thinks of Quebec), but the interweaving of the hockey-based subplot feels splashed on in such broad strokes that it comes off as national caricature put together by an outsider as opposed to an actual Canadian.

Bon Cop seems about as accurate a portrayal of a Canadian audience member as Telefilm’s notion that the best approach to expanding Canada’s cultural presence in our own country is through our cell phones and web connections. If Telefilm has consistently failed for so long in getting Canadian audiences into theatres or to tune into certain television channels at certain times, I’m not sure how likely it is that we as a national audience will be prone to clicking on a download link instead either. It seems that first “p” in Dorland’s title is still in the lead.

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