Theorising a National Cinema, Canonizing Canadian Film, & Atanarjuat

While Stephen Crofts’ Reconceptualising National Cinema is primarily concerned with the ways in which other national cinemas (as in, those that are not Hollywood) take steps to differentiate themselves (although there are, of course, those that choose to imitate), Ian Jarvie’s National Cinema: A Theoretical Assessment looks at the role of cinema on a much deeper level of nation-building. In both cases, both writers emerge from their examinations with little hope of overcoming the all-ecompassing power of the Hollywood product on an international level, although it is intriguing to consider the importance of a national film identity on the level Jarvie attempts to take it to. How deep of a role do we give a national cinema? I’d imagine the answer that would come back from the citizens of France would be one somewhat different from the answer that would come back from the citizens of Canada were film funding ever put up on the chopping block in a national referendum. (Even moreso, the difference in opinion between English and French-speaking Canada).

It’s particularly interesting reading Peter Morris’ In Our Own Eyes: The Canonizing of Canadian Film so close to a screening of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, a film which seems to fly in direct opposition to the cliches most often associated with Canadian film as outlined in Morris’ piece. The hero of Atanarjuat is in no way a ‘victim’ or a ‘loser’, nor does the film fall neatly into line as a typically downcast and depressing Canadian film. That said, Atanarjuat is so uniquely and distinctly Canadian – it couldn’t possibly be anything else given how important the place in which it unfolds is – that it almost seems to single-handedly give the canon an all-new direction. There’s very few fables in the Canadian cinema we’ve explored so far (unless you count two Easterners taking on Toronto night life in Goin’ Down the Road a fable), and it’s interesting to consider how just one film like Atanarjuat can turn the accepted canon of Canadian cinema on its ear.

Working through these critical writings of late, however, it’s easy to wish Canadian film scholars would follow the teachings of their French forebears and start a New Wave of our own. Rather than mourning the lack of a major canon of films to draw from, perhaps our leading critical minds should step out from behind the typewriter and behind a camera instead? Who’s to say Peter Morris wouldn’t have made for a Canadian Francois Truffaut?

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