A National Cinema Without a National Audience? Charles R. Acland’s Northern Screens & David Pike’s Across the Great Divide

When contemplating the over-riding sense of “failure” that permeates the Canadian film industry, there are, at least, some examples of filmmakers and films that have broken through and made an impact. Granted, it seems that most often we are viewing these films and filmmakers through the lens of an artistic lens vs. a commercial one — films such as Les Boys and Bon Cop, Bad Cop gain the ire of cineastes for their lack in quality, despite being bonafide hits for the producers behind them.

Take, for example, the list of (at least somewhat successful) success stories in Charles R. Acland’s Northern Screens, and in particular its appearance directly following the suggestion that “filmmakers, policymakers, movie fans, or relatives” consider Canadian cinema “dull, strange, indistinct, or inaccessible” (165). As suggested through Acland’s writings, it is from behind an idea of over-riding “failure” that we traditionally consider our national cinema. It is as though, despite all of his awards and international attention, that we’re even self-apologetic for the likes of Atom Egoyan — “we apologize for how boring Egoyan can be. Sincerely yours, Canada.”

(Or even, “We’re sorry — we’re not sure what happened with Cronenberg either. See you at the movies, Yr pal, Canada.”)

What’s curious about Canadian identity, is the pride with which we uphold it as some sort of shield when traversing through other parts of the world, away from North America. Yet, in our cinematic output, the tone is quite consistently one of the oft-mentioned notion of a “little brother” or imminent “failure”. We’re sure to point out our status as distinctly non-American when back-packing through Europe, as though this is somehow some sign of superiority, morally and intelectually. Yet, we look at our cinema — one of the primary definitions of a nation’s artistic output — with shame and apologetic disappointment.

(Furthermore, take Mike Myers’ quotation from David Pike’s Across the Great Divide: “Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American. It is the mathematic of not being.” While I disagree with this statement, given the prevalence I’ve witnessed of Canadian travelers throughout other parts of the world using the distinguishing factor of not being American or English as one of our definitive traits, Myers quotation does indeed at least enlighten the idea of Canadian actors in Hollywood, at least, distancing themselves from a background that, within film, is shameful to be associated with).

When Canada does manage to hit a home run in theatres (primarily inside of Canada, as these films quite often don’t make it very far outside of our borders), these films are typically not the ones for which any sort of national excitement is developed or displayed. Sure, there’s the occasional outpouring of affection and pride over a project like Atanarjuat:The Fast Runner, but, on the other hand, who wants to stand behind a film like Les Boys 2 as a definitive moment of our cinematic history?

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