Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 2]

Canadian Film & Television

Many Canadian actors, writers and directors have established a considerable presence in the American movie and television business since the very beginning.

pictured in "Canadian Women in Film"
Canadian Mary Pickford was “America’s Sweetheart”

Talented Canadians have been migrating to Hollywood to make movies for as long as there have been movies. Naturally. If you wanted to be in pictures, that’s where you had to go.

They called her “America’s Sweetheart,” for her movie acting, but she was also a hard headed business woman who was producing her own films early on, going on to co-found United to ensure she maintained her autonomy. Toronto born Mary Pickford, was actually a Canadian girl.

Over time things have changed and today films are made all over the world.

International Acclaim

The National Film Board of Canada became a world leader in documentary film making. NFB documentaries and short films have won many Oscars over the years.

The Sheridan College Animation Program offered at the Oakville, Ontario Campus has long been considered one of the best animation schools in the world – and in fact the prime source of Disney animators. Home grown animation companies like Toronto’s Nelvana produce and export a large proportion of children’s programming globally.

The innovative IMAX film system, now available around the world, was created and developed by the Canadian IMAX Corporation.

On the Home Front

It has traditionally been difficult for Canadian movies and television programming to compete with American fare. Partly because so much Canadian talent has flowed south of the border, but Cancon rules have made it worse by engendering a lack of confidence in Canadian productions .

Initially the fledgling Canadian movie and TV industry was behind in technical expertise. Remember how 1970’s Canadian television programming and films were conspicuous because of the tinny sound? But by the 1980’s the Canadian film and television industry was undergoing change. Thanks in part to the exchange rate which kept the Canadian dollar lower than the American dollar, budget conscious American productions began flowing north across the border.

Today the world acknowledges Canada as the new Hollywood North, boasting a qualified film & TV workforce and decent production facilities. No less a personage than The Terminator er California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to fight to keep American productions out of Canada (and coincidentally in California).

Night Heat title frame from series opening credit sequence

Although it was a successful prime time Canadian Television series, Night Heat was actually a Canadian/American co-production. Great care was taken to place the series in an unspecified North American city in an attempt to make the series acceptable in both countries. In fact, the only North American City that Night Heat could not have taken place in was Toronto, since in one episode the heroes travel to Toronto for a CN Tower chase scene. Of course in reality Toronto was where the series was actually made.

Economically the Canadian film industry may be holding its own, but that isn’t the biggest problem. Although American driven Canadian productions may employ Canadians they are American productions creating American culture. Even when working on Canadian soil it seems Canadians contribute to American culture.

Due South Title Graphic

Due South was a CBS/CTV co-production. Paul Gross played the incredibly principled Mountie Constable Benton Fraser stationed in Chicago in this dramatic series with a decidedly humorous bent.

Wolf and mountie, the Canadian stars of Due South: Benton and Diefenbaker

Due South was set in Chicago, and Fraser frequently wears the distinctive RCMP red serge uniform in the series, where he works with Chicago police detective Ray Vecchio. Although Fraser and his pet wolf Diefenbaker are usually the only nominal Canadian in the show, there is never any question that Fraser is the hero of the piece.

Although American audiences liked the show, CBS decided to pull out. But because it was a big hit in Canada and abroad financing was found to keep it running for a few more years.

The original Due South story editor, David Shore, went on to create the wildly successful American series House M.D.

House (Hugh Laurie) stares balefully up at the happy face balloon he hold the string to.

Due South series creator Paul Haggis went on to win Oscars for writing and directing the 2004 film Crash.

Haggis clutching Oscars in each fist, stands in front of a 6 foot Oscar

I wrote a bit about the Canadian talent-drain in copycon: the continuing saga.

As with musicians, Wikipedia also has a Wikipedia: List of Canadian Actors.

But it isn’t just actors, there are a great many successful Canadians working behind the scenes in Hollywood as well.

Writers and Directors are just as likely to head for Hollywood as actors are. Naturally there are also lists of Wikipedia: List of Canadian Writers and a Wikipedia: List of Canadian Directors.

Bon Cop Bad Cop poster

Why do so many talented Canadians flock to the States?

Triplets of Belleville poster

Quebec has long had a rich Francophone dramatic film and television tradition precisely because of its distinct language and culture.

This most probably accounts for the fact that many of the best Canadian feature films like The Triplets of Belleville, Bon Cop Bad Cop and Maurice Richard [English Title: The Rocket] and Polytechnique have come out of Quebec.

Quest for Fire, an excellent film set before language as we know it existed was made in Canada.

Maurice Richard  poster

Canadian director Ivan Reitman’s hit film Meatballs was his last Canadian feature before disappearing into Hollywood to make movies like Ghostbusters, Legal Eagles and Twins.   Sometimes Canadians get pretty good English language feature films, like Passchendaele, or Nurse.Fighter.Boy.

Passchendaele poster

An interesting Canadian film I’m looking forward to seeing is Before Tomorrow, the first feature film made by the Women’s Inuit film Collective Arnait Video Productions. I was very impressed with the trailer on the Genie Award site

Canada is sadly in the position of having a single first run movie theatre distribution network for the whole of Canada. Which means there is no competition at all. It’s a monopoly. When a popular Canadian movie like Passchendaele or Bon Cop Bad Cop is released, there is little chance of becoming a blockbuster because these films don’t get the opportunity. Their Canadian theatrical runs are very short.

Interestingly enough, there are no “Cancon” regulations for movie theatres. Particularly since we’re down to a monopoly, wouldn’t this be the perfect place to insist on Canadian content?

Arrow in Flight among the clouds
Avro Arrow: Painting by Lance Russwurm

Canadian television has been producing increasingly good television fare. Like the CBC mini-series The Arrow. Series like Slings and Arrows which has inspired a Brazillian version, Less Than Kind and 18 to Life.

Title graphic for comedy series Less Than Kind

Canadians are capable of creating good movies and television. Why has there been so little of it?

How much of the problem comes down to perception. In spite of all of this evidence to the contrary, Canadians don’t think Canadian television or movies are generally very good. After all, if Canadian film and television was good, there wouldn’t be any need for Canadian Content regulations.

maple leaf leaning left

This perception first makes it hard to raise the money needed to create television or movies, and again to distribute them.

The advent of the Internet has opened up new distribution venues for Canadian film and video. This can only bode well for Canadian Culture.

Great Canadian TV Series: Less Than Kind

A Canadian Movie I really want to see: Nurse.Fighter.Boy.

[Novel permitting, I hope to publish the conclusion of this article Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 3] next week.]

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Image Credits:
Mary Pickford photo in the public domain, original made available from Library and Archives Canada: Celebrating Women’s Achievements Mary Pickford photo © Public Domain


New Kits on the Block

At the tail end of my last post I mentioned that we’d just welcomed two little brother cats to our family. These guys have brightened up our lives some considerable. There’s nothing like having little guys under foot… you know how cats love to race your foot to the exact spot you are about to touch down on the stairs…. 🙂

I thought I’d give them a proper introduction this time out. This is Murray:

Murray wrestles with a string rope.
When we brought the cat carrier in and set it down, I told Will he could open it up to see if they’d come out. Well, they did right off, only to make themselves scarce hiding behind big furniture.

However it quickly became clear that crinkling noises and a dangling string are irresistible to the smaller kitten. Willem decided that he should be called Murray, since he’s the clever little game playing addict. He’s a skinny little guy, much leaner over all and far more active than his brother. Murray is the more gregarious of the two, and the one most likely to dig his claws into you. He’s also prone to making the occasional finger chomp, so we’ll be working on that one. Murray also finds wiggling strings irresistible. And treats. Well, pretty much the world.

Although larger, Nick was the least in evidence on the first day.The bigger kitten hides under the furniture.

We had to stop trying to entice them out before we caught sight of Nick.

Cats at the window

By the second day Nick was willing to come out to watch the cat version of High Def: the window to squirrel land.

We like squirrels. And chipmunks, and bunnies amd birds. We feed them. And in fact our dog Cody sat outside to watch their antics with me. I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to eat any of them. Having had cats before, I doubt any similar arrangement can be arranged with cats.

Cats watch the squirrel in the snow through the window.
Nick and Murray enjoy the floor show.

But it should be alright, since we are firmly decided that our cats will be indoor cats. We’re intending to harness train them, and the only time they will be allowed out doors will be in cat carrier or on leash. This is not only because house cats are a major danger to urban wildlife, but also because the great outdoors can be equally lethal to these pampered critters.

A vet told me once that the average life expectancy of an indoor/outdoor cat is 3 years.

When I think about all the cats I know who’ve lived to their teens or twenties that is pretty grim. Having lost two cats to outdoor accidents, it is something I am determined not to have happen again.

Collage of Murray at play

Murray would come out to play, but mostly Nick would watch.

Walking along the back of the futon frame.
A rare sighting of the shy guy.

By the third day I guess Nick decided that we were trustworthy.
Nick and Murray

He ventured out to play.
Nick wrestling the feather wand

Murray plays with the feather stick

It’s interesting that they don’t play together, nor do they compete.

Murray is the play demon. He is all over the place jumping and leaping like Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Nick watches and waits, while Murray burns calories and wears down the prey. Until he tires.

Nick enters the fray.

Nick grabs and holds the feather stick.  Deploying brute strength Nick works to subdue and capture.

Grabbing the feather stick with his teeth he just clamps down on it, and then just calmly tries to walk away.

No hurry.

Just take hold and don’t let go. Almost works too.

Maybe lay down on the thing.

When Nick’s tactics don’t work he yields the floor to Murray.

Tag team kittens. Who’d a thought?

Murray fights the stick with feathers littering the floor all around

Of course today Nick isn’t speaking to me again. Murray forgave me by last night.

You see, I was a meanie. I stuffed them into the cat carrier… and it was a herculean struggle, I’ll tell you… and took them to the vet for their check up.

Kitten face laying on the floor inches grom the cameraIt would have been much easier to have them in separate boxes, but I thought it would be easier on them to travel together. Do you have any idea how tough it is to stuff a writhing clawing scratching kitten into a carry case when the one inside is trying to get out? Well, the verdict is that they’re healthy and now they’ve had their shots. But Nick is holding a grudge.

At least Murray is still speaking to me.

And Nick let me see him today. I figure he will have just about forgiven me by the time I have to take them in for surgery next week.


ONF NFB logo
I just found out that the National Film Board of Canada (the NFB) is making their films freely available online. That is simply awesome.

Actually, the only reason I found out about this is because Jesse Brown of TVO’s Search Engine was taking CBC to task for not making their material freely available to the citizens whose taxes have paid for that content. One of Jesse’s links mentioned was to Michael Geist’s Toronto Star column explaining the NFB is in fact doing it right.

This is how the internet works. Or rather, this is how the internet is supposed to work. I heard what Jesse said on Twitter which led me to his Search Engine article which gave me background sources including Michael Geist’s Toronto Star column which sent me to the NFB.

Canadian MoneyThe NFB is of course funded by taxpayer dollars, so in fact their content should be freely available to all citizens. But that isn’t always the way things are interpreted. I’m one of those radicals who thinks that crown copyright should not exist. Since Canadian tax dollars have paid for these excellent films, why shouldn’t they be freely available?

Having first watched one of my all time favorite films — NFB’s The Sweater I spent far too much time cruising for favorites… and I got this perfectly marvelous idea… since it’s supposed to be possible to embed NFB videos in blogs, the reason I’m talking about this in my “hello kitties” post is because I thought the coolest thing to do would be to place the funniest cat film of all time at the end of this post. Unfortunately I have been unable to figure out how to embed it, so I’ll just have to link to it the old fashioned way.
Title Frame from The Cat Came Back animated film
So now that you’ve met the new kits, lets take a look at one of the coolest cats to grace Canadian cinema, in the National Film Board of Canada’s animated classic The Cat Came Back