What Makes A Film Canadian?

As a Toronto-based arts writer, I greatly enjoy the opportunities I receive to place a spotlight on those films that many refer to as “Canadian.” Canadian film festivals such as Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival allow audiences the opportunity to enjoy incredible films from this great country along with their regular intake of Hollywood productions. However, with festivals such as Canada’s Top Ten gaining in popularity, the question begs to be asked: What does make a film truly “Canadian”? For every person one queries, a different answer will be presented. Here are a few of my ideas.

A Canadian Production

I must admit, I love a good Hollywood feature. It is unfortunate, however, that many filmgoers are unaware that there is a movie production industry outside of Hollywood. Several independent Canadian studios have achieved success at home and recognition internationally, such as the Montreal-based studio micro_scope, which has brought us critically acclaimed works such as Incendies (2010), Monsieur Lazhar (2011), Gabrielle (2013), and Enemy (2013). Also based out of Montreal, Caramel Films is known for hits such as Starbuck (2011), Goon (2012), and a personal favourite, The F Word (2013). All of these films can be referred to as Canadian works, as they were produced in this country by our own studios.

A Canadian Director

Another aspect of Canadian filmmaking is the director. This country has produced many incredible directors, such as David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method) and Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy), both of whom I have had the pleasure of listening to speak live and who stressed the importance of their homeland on their work. James Cameron (The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar), Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, The Thomas Crown Affair, In the Heat of the Night), Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Labor Day), and Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take this Waltz, Stories We Tell) are a few other well-known Canadian directors who have been critically acclaimed.

Does simply having a Canadian director at the helm of a film qualify it as Canadian, though? For example, none consider Titanic to be a Canadian film, even though director James Cameron was born and raised here. Even more debateable is the film Juno, which features not only a Canadian director in Reitman, but also a Canadian location in Vancouver, a Canadian crew, and two Canadian stars, Michael Cera and Ellen Page, as its leads. This film caused controversy in 2008 when it failed to secure a Genie Award nomination, which are the prestigious awards for Canadian film, although it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in Hollywood. The snub occurred because the film was financed and released by American studios, which suggests that some consider financial output to be the mark of a Canadian work.


A Canadian Setting

While countless movies are filmed in this beautiful country, few are actually set here. Many are unaware that major Hollywood pictures such as Twilight (2008), Titanic (197), Mean Girls (2004), Good Will Hunting (1997), and Brokeback Mountain (2005) can attribute their scenery to our lands, as these films are all set in other locations. The Whole 9 Yards (2000) and the X-Men films do make brief mention of their Canadian settings, and these references are always considered to be a big deal, but are not enough to render them “Canadian.” A treat for Torontonians was the film The F Word (2013), which was not only filmed in the city, but was also set here as well, so that the shots of the Spadina streetcar are actually meant to represent the Spadina streetcar. This choice was both fun and refreshing for moviegoers unused to such an experience. It would appear, then, that a Canadian location is not sufficient to render a film “Canadian,” while the rare matter of a Canadian setting is up for debate.

A Canadian Tone

Finally, there is the matter of the Canadian tone and feeling. There is something ineffable about a Canadian film with a low budget and a big heart, but these works can be spotted a mile away. Take, for example, the little film Old Stock (2012) that I had the pleasure of reviewing a few years ago. This film was directed and written by Canadians, and features a Canadian cast and crew. It was also filmed in the Canadian town of Orangeville, Ontario, and the location exudes the feeling only evoked by small-town Ontario. The residents sport their hand-knitted toques, hard-working attitudes, and slight accents, leaving no doubt as to the setting. It is also the sweet and charming nature of this quiet and unassuming film that lends it a Canadian feel. There is no over-the-top Hollywood spectacle present, just a quirky attitude and tongue-in-cheek humour. Difficult to describe yet easy to recognize, a Canadian tone is, in my opinion, the most important aspect to consider when deciding whether or not to hail a film as Canadian.

So, what do you think makes a film Canadian? Join the discussion and let us know in the comments!

Photo Credits:
Cover: The Grand Seduction | Photo: Marlne GŽlineau Payette
Article Photo 1: Gabrielle | Photo: Philippe Boss
Article Photo 2: The F Word | Photo: Caitlin Cronenberg