INTERVIEWS Apt Pupil: Bi Gan on Long Day’s Journey Into Night By Blake Williams I Like America and America Likes
I’m usually hard on myself, but I’m pleased to say that this issue is pretty solid, which is even more surprising to me when I realize that there are so many interviews and articles in here on Canadian film—and one piece on a somewhat controversial film made by a Canadian that doesn’t qualify, for bureaucratic reasons, as a “Canadian film.” Hell, there’s even a Canadian film on the cover. This is not because I feel some sense of patriotism or financial responsibility as this is a Canadian magazine that receives money from the Canadian government. I’ve been thinking about this subject in recent months as due to being responsible for programming films for a festival outside of Canada that included Canadian films, I was able to see up close the way that non-Canadians experience Canadian films. Oftentimes this puzzled me, but just as often, it came with a logic that’s far more grounded in reality than the attitude of Canadians to their own products. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to Canada: in my experience, critics and programmers (especially programmers) cannot be trusted as far as they can spit most of the time when it comes to films from their own country. (See, for example, the French.)
I’m not completely sure why this is the case, but a good starting proposition is that anyone who has to watch more than a hundred Canadian features, without giving enough time and energy to considering what’s going on in the rest of the world, is at a great disadvantage (and quite possibly en route to massive multiple organ failure). Thus, in this issue, we have a mixture of coverage of Canadian films, some written by Canadians, others by foreigners. Films that will be appreciated and/or hated at home that have won major prizes abroad. Some films that have been rejected by pretty much all major Canadian festivals yet programmed at numerous festivals outside of Canada—I’m not naming names, but you can figure it out. (And let’s not even touch the question of different receptions when it comes to English and French Canada.) But when it comes down to it, I trust the foreigners.
It speaks to the point that seems to be preoccupying a certain bored segment of the film world today: the relationship between programming and film criticism. On this point, I’d argue against my general instincts that the two are one and the same and say that when dealing with films made in your own country, a programmer has to be open to the fact that quite often you’re not going to be able to understand how a non-native audience will react to the film or even, sometimes, whether it’s good or bad. It’s just that hard to step outside our preconceptions regarding what a Canadian cinema should be, or should look like. Maybe it’s something to do with how not only culture but quite specifically language operates. Here I’m talking about the impact of subtitles on critical judgment, which deserves a far greater focus when it comes to film criticism and study. (I’m not sure what’s going on in the academic field; this seems like something they should investigate.) I encourage submissions on this topic, and would be happy to dedicate a special issue of Cinema Scope to the impact of subtitles in the near future. I also encourage all Canadians to make films in Esperanto and present them to Canadian programmers with subtitles.
And now, what nobody has been waiting for: namely ten recommendations of films I’ve seen that will be heading your way that Cinema Scope has not yet covered in detail in this calendar year. Note, there are only nine, as I can’t think of ten, and also there are no Canadian films on this list, because most of them suck:
Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)
Dissolution (Nina Menkes, US)
Morgen (Marian Crisan, Romania/Hungary)
Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz, Portugal/France)
September 12 (Ozlem Sulak, Turkey/Germany)
The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)
Thomas Mao (Zhu Wen, China)
Winter Vacation (Li Hongqi, China)
And…Rubber (Quentin Dupieux, France. If you want ten, also see, Steak, Quentin Dupieux, France/Canada. Never released with English subtitles, but they exist on the internet. Search them out, as this could be the best Canadian film you’ve never seen. Or learn French.)