Last month, I watched the Canadian Screen Awards, well aware I’d seen almost none of the nominated films or television programmes. But many of them looked quite good and I wished I’d gotten the chance to see them. These are our movies after all, produced here in Canada, how come we’re not given the opportunity to see them?
When I lived in the U.K. it was common to see British movies like Pride and Sunshine on Leith screened in the same cinemas that were showing The Maze Runner, Interstellar, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. There’s an effort over there to showcase home-grown films in larger distribution than we seem to have in Canada. Here only a handful of Canadian films get national distribution and usually when that happens they have to be sought out, reserved for special cinemas in only a few major cities or else the smallest screen for a limited time.
There’s no shortage of Canadian movies. Plenty are screened at TIFF or other festivals but never reach wider audiences. Since hearing about it last year, I’ve been very interested in seeing Maudie, a biopic on Nova Scotian painter Maude Lewis starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Weirdos, Searchers, and The Other Half are a few of the movies nominated at the recent CSAs that I’d have liked the opportunity to see as well.
The problem may be lack of interest. When Canadian films are made available they rarely make anywhere near their American cousins at the box office. Mostly they’d attract film enthusiasts or supporters of the Canadian film industry, but few others. The reason for that may be that Canada doesn’t have a culture of prominent filmmakers or performers who haven’t left for Hollywood. There are a few, but most Canadians can’t name more than half a dozen actors or directors who work mostly in Canada. And since star power still plays an important part in attracting moviegoers, this is definitely a disadvantage for Canadian films.
There’s also the fact that the Canadian film industry is so much smaller than the American, and thus films of the scale of a Hollywood blockbuster are almost impossible. Canada has a very diverse culture and our film output reflects that. If you type ‘Canadian movies’ into a search engine you’ll come across a bunch of French-language and Aboriginal movies like Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and Mon oncle Antoine. But these kind of movies that are mostly indie and often subtitled, don’t gel with the public as much for the same reasons as Oscar-bait films. People would much rather see movies that are more viscerally, accessibly entertaining. And seeing as those are the biggest successes with the masses, it hurts the chances of Canadian cinema to make a mark. Not all people crave these sorts of films of course, but it’s enough of a majority to justify not releasing more home-grown cinema wide, when they’ll most likely take up theatre space and not make back much money.
Ultimately, it comes down to the people demanding the opportunity to see Canadian movies. And because of these factors, that demand is not there. Canadian television isn’t even popular with most Canadians, why would their films be.
And that’s really a shame because there are plenty of good Canadian movies that deserve to be seen by more audiences, whether playing in art-house theatres somewhere in Canada or on home video. Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, but for Ian Holm’s disappearing accent, is a great film, intimately portraying the effect of a disastrous accident on a small town. David Cronenberg’s Scanners is one of the most bizarre and unique speculative horror movies you could see, creatively graphic and mysterious. Sarah Polley’s directorial debut, Away From Her, is a powerful and moving exploration of the effects of Alzheimers’ disease on a relationship. And let’s not forget a great little movie that made waves on the Awards show circuits a couple years ago: Room. That film, about a captive woman raising her son in a solitary room, won Brie Larson an Oscar.
That’s the best place to start. If we want more attention given to Canadian movies and wider releases, we should make an effort to show interest in Canadian art. Because even though Canadian films may not be as conventionally exciting or extreme as their American counterparts, they’re still significant in a way those films are not. They’re vessels of our culture, our identity; if nothing else we can latch onto reference points we don’t get out of other movies. I guarantee there are some Canadian movies out there for any taste, and so we should find them, cultivate their relevance, so that with any luck, the next Canadian Screen Award winner will be something we’ve seen.