It use to be that when someone, usually a Canadian, would describe a film as being 'Canadian' we knew they thought the movie was earnest, self-important, bleak and basically a sub-par imitation of American cinema. The prevalent assumption was that Canadians were not equipped to compete in the bigger market. But then people, like the late Bob Clark, got the imitation right with Porky's, Black Christmas, A Christmas Story as well as Peter Medak's The Changeling (earning the first Genie Award in 1980 for best picture). .
Something else happened. David Cronenberg started making films and it was clear he was not interested in imitating anyone. The international world of cinema took notice. Cronenberg's films were distinct, maybe even distinctly Canadian, a term that could now mean, unique, non-traditional, impactful and smart. His films could provoke anger (Crash) confusion (eXistenZ), they could freak people out (Videodrome) and they could push us to the limits of our willingness to suspend disbelief (Shivers, Naked Lunch.) But through it all Cronenberg earned the reputation of being a master that even his fellow Canadians could appreciate
Other masters would follow; Patricia Rozema, Atom Egoyan, Bruce MacDonald and Guy Maddin all became names that as familiar to filmgoers in the U.S.A. and Europe as they are here. Today if someone were to grumble about a film being 'Canadian' we would have the right to assume that that person lsn't up on the current state of cinema.
Is this because Canadian cinema is improving or has it always been good and it's the filmgoers who're getting better?
Canadian filmmakers had time to grow within the industry and I assume budgets are better today than they were (although it does cost more to make so it might be a moot point). We now reap the benefits of having educated filmmakers coming out of York University, University of Toronto, The Weengushk Film Institute and The Canadian Film Centre to say nothing of the contribution that TIFF has made to Canadian cinema and, with apologies for the self-recognition, 38 years of Saturday Night at the Movies and The Interviews.
But does this advancement in technology, education and budget dismiss the works that came in the years B.C. (Before Cronenberg)? Not at all. If anything, the new voices of Canadian cinema have cleared the path for us to appreciate the classics. Goin' Down the Road, The Rowdyman, Who Has Seen the Wind? and Nobody Waved Goodbye, may have the same rudimentary look as they did when we first saw them, but now the effect seems less about a lack of resources and more about choices. Turns out it wasn't earnestness after all that was plaguing Canadian, it was sincerity. And the clearer the voices of Canadian filmmakers become the better equipped we seem able to understanding the voices of Canadian filmmakers past.
In a recent appearance on CBC's Fresh Air with Mary Ito, I was able to provide a list of top Canadian Films to revisit. I purposefully left out the films of Cronenberg and Egoyan to allow more room for 'lesser' known movies to get some air time. And for the same reason I also eliminated the temptation to include the classics.
But first, here are 5 films I forgot to put on the list that should definitely not be missed.
5/ In The Company of Strangers aka Strangers in Good Company - Cynthia Scott - Almost a documentary but it's not which makes this film about a group of stranded seniors all the more impressive.
And now here is the list I presented on CBC Fresh Air: