At the time of writing—and I’m quite sure this, too, soon will pass—it’s energizing to be a Canadian filmmaker, if not a Canadian film critic, if not a Canadian. Controversy abounds, in the form of the censorship seemingly proffered by the now-notorious and soon-forgotten Bill C-10, which promises to give our trustworthy federal government a say in approving tax credits for Canadian films based on content “contrary to public policy.” Sure. Then there’s the unparalleled success of official and surrogate Canadian productions at the recent Academy Awards: I talk here of Sarah Polley’s tres Canadian Away from Her, and the Canadian-born Jason Reitman-directed, fully Canadian Ellen Page- starring, Vancouver-shot Juno, which, quite logically, despite manufactured controversy, was not Genie-eligible due to being fully funded by the Yanks.
The two controversies have been connected in the press, as if Juno were a “Canadian film,” maybe the hep, irreverent teen pro-pregnancy narrative might meet the ire of the tax credit panel. Despite that non-Canadian productions would be beyond the scrutiny of the closed-door censors, let’s take Juno as the standard-bearer, as I really don’t want to discuss Young People Fucking, thank you very much. And there are other sexy scandals, to further date myself: our Conservative government trying to bribe a dying MP to return to their caucus with the promise of a life insurance policy, and their unadvised intrusion into the Democratic primaries on the NAFTA issue. Cinema Scope endorses Obama, for what it’s worth.
I suspect (really, hope) that by the time this issue hits the streets the issue of censorship of Canadian films for “pornographic” content will have been resolved, nobody will be able to remember what exactly Bill C-10 meant, and the media can return to not giving a young people fucking about Canadian cinema until the next pseudo-crisis comes along. Because this recent kerfuffle speaks most to the tendency for shocks to demand to the headlines, while the non-sexy business of Canadian film production languishes, except during festival time—and even then (talking Toronto), it’s far overshadowed by the American star-driven publicity machine. It’s sad, sure, but thus is our fate as a perpetual satellite.
Changing continents, it’s strange how these things work. After managing to survive the Berlin film festival, one that featured mucho Canuck content (most gratifyingly, Guy Maddin’s Forum opener My Winnipeg, which received a grand reception), I take a look and I’m truly surprised to see how much that follows covers films that screened in Berlin (see Morris, Wakamatsu, the Hammer, Benning, Aditya, Hong, Auder, etc.) And this was a festival roundly scorned, by myself included, one where a truly rank competition led to a rank Golden Bear, though I did, to my credit, skip most of the competition.
So let me take this opportunity to correct the standard wisdom on the two most newsworthy English-language films that screened there: Madonna has proven herself not only the best filmmaker in her family, but I’ll take “the Ciccone” over recent (especially the most very recent method acting gone totally psycho) Mike Leigh. With that in mind, the trend that Berlin most represented is the unfortunate tendency for festival or arthouse filmmakers to thrust at viewers the most unappealing main characters possible, which may be why Gogol Bordello’s very likeable Eugene Hütz and his comely roommates in Filth and Wisdom stood out from the pack.
Here’s the conundrum—despite the horror show that was the Berlinale, there were a number of films worth talking about. So do we judge a festival by the few interesting films, or the horrors? Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But this is a topic that merits further discussion.