Posts Tagged ‘Canadian Film’

The House that Jack Built

June 7, 2009

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This interesting 1967 NFB film is a nice twist on Jack and the Beanstalk.  It’s amazing that 40+ years later people are still concerned about urban sprawl, and suburban life.  Jack yearns to be different and to find a life that isn’t the same as everyone else.  Even in wealth, Jack is merely unique but not different. His dreams, goals, and aspirations remain the same as those around him.  Perhaps we are all Jack, striving to be ourselves, while settling to be like everyone else.


May 24, 2009

While reading up on the theme of isolation I came across this delightful Yvon Mallette directed NFB animated filmThe Family That Dwelt Apart is an adaptation of an E.B. White short story. You may know him as the author of Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little. Although the story is set in the Northeast United States, the setting could easily be anywhere in Canada.  The film has a dark sense of humour.  The use of jazz in the soundtrack adds pace to the playful animation.  The 1960’s and 70’s era of animation have a distinct style that is instantly recognizable.  The animators generally created a world bordering on the surreal, but with enough reality to make people, places, and objects recognizable.

On the theme of isolation, this film highlights what might be one of the potential problems of withdrawing from society.  In this family’s case, other people decided that help should try to reach their island.  The end result is somewhat funny and somewhat tragic.  In real life people who isolate themselves may at first illicit a sympathetic reaction from others (if anyone is around to notice) but ultimately they may become completely alienated from everyone.  While this could lead tothe kind of gossiping we find in the film, it likely won’t produce the same response.  Obviously, this comparison is a rational leap, but it does contribute to a discussion of intentional isolation.

Hockey Night In Dreamland

May 11, 2009

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The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing, and the IIHF World Hockey Championship has just ended.  Some would argue this is the best part of the hockey year.  In honour of that I offer you another interesting National Film Board of Canada short.  This 2008 animated flick was created by Iriz Pääbo a director who admits she knows very little about the sport. She relied on Eric Nesterenko to fill in the gaps, yet managed to create a very abstract treatment.  Hockey is already a bit of an unusual sport, in that it involves skates, sticks, and allows fighting.  This film takes the sport in a surreal direction.The sound is familiar yet abstract, with distorted commentary and the regular ebbs and flows of a knowledgeable crowd.  The action captures the fluid and explosive essence of hockey. Perhaps this HA’Aki is hockey through the eyes of a child or a dreamer.

A Long Time Ago

April 25, 2009

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In honour of Earth Day and Earth Week, I resent this interesting take on human evolution.  It’s a bit of a tradition on this blog to feature animated NFB films from the 70’s.  Zlatko Grgic blends humour and social consciousness into an entertaining trip through history. Deep Threat seems a bit dated today, and it’s message has certainly been heralded to death in the last 30 years.  The use of eccentric animation is not something you would see today in an environmental film. In fact, you are much more likely to see live action shots of whatever habitat/creature/society that is threatened.  This film may be a time capsule of the film industry and environmental movement of the 1970’s, but it’s remains enjoyable today.   I think the environmental movement takes itself far to seriously sometimes, with very dramatic tales of humanity’s destructive powers.  Deep Threat put a nice spin on the overall message of protecting the earth.  Perhaps people don’t need to be scared in order to act.

Let’s Go Out We’ll Take No Prisoners

April 9, 2009
Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.
(An errant ‘Canadien’
Banished from his homeland
Weeping, he travels on
Wandering through foreign lands

French Canadian Folk Song

Un Canadien Errant

Went out last night and caught One Week an interesting Canadian made film.  I want to spend a few paragraphs to discuss the film.  Let me begin by saying I really enjoyed this film. It had most of the elements that impress me in movies: wide open spaces, fantastic music, a simple and subtle story, a little bit of the eccentric and the surreal, and some sadness.  The story revolves around Ben Tyler (played by half Canadian Joshua Jackson) and a cross country road trip intitiated by a cancer diagnosis.  Most of the cast is made up of Canadian musicans including cameos by Gord Downie, Joel Plaskett and Emm Gryner. 

This is a throughly Canadian film.  People from other countries won’t understand many of the references, from Tim Hortons to Canadian Tire to the omnipresent Steam Whistle.  I read one review that claimed this film would appeal to those who think Canadian films are inherently superior to Hollywood. I am not one of those people (see my thoughts about Passchendale), but without knowing it Michael McGowan made a movie that specifically appeals to me. I love the basic premise of heading West, trying to stay one step ahead of the deadly disease that threatens to destroy Ben’s life.  I loved the occasional mention of Grumps though I felt it was an angle that could’ve been fleshed out. 

The story is narrated by what first appears to be an omnipresent viewer, but later turns out to be something else. When the narration began I groaned and thought, oh no please don’t ruin the film this way.  I came to enjoy the random bits of information, including the vignettes explaining how Ben’s decisions touched other people’s lives. Yes that concept may be a little sappy, but in a film about a man facing his own mortality, I think it’s important to be reminded of the bigger picture.  It would be easy to become lost in the hopelessness and the sadness of Ben’s predicament, yet at every turn the film wants the viewer to know that his cancer won’t be the end, at least not yet. 

I could’ve done without the somewhat hackneyed cliche scene with Gord Downie.  The old line about being in love, “if you have to ask, you’re not” is very overdone in film/television, and in life.  I do appreciate that the love story was honest with itself.  The filmmakers didn’t try to fix everything in the end, though somehow the outcome probably did anyway.

I mentioned the music earlier. Head here to check out tracks from the film.  Much like another film I love, Things To Do,  this film has a fantastic collection of indie rock. It also veers into country and folk at times, particularly for what must be the centrepiece song, Un Canadien Errant.  Just like the film itself the soundtrack is thoroughly Canadian.

One Week has elements of many of the great road films of all time, but is set in Canada (unlike most of them).  The visual journey makes the film worth watching.  The enjoyable story and solid acting add beauty to the unbeatable canvas.  A German tourist, late in the film remarks, “You live in one of the most beautiful countries in the whole world.”  I’d recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a film that is not plot heavy, tells the tale of a journey, and most of all, to people who like Canada and Canadian films.  I suspect that One Week will find itself up for a few Genie Awards next year, and without knowing the field I bet any win is well deserved.


They Go Twirlin’ Down And Down White Water

March 29, 2009

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I believe I once linked to this video, but this is the first time it’s been embedded.  This classic Canadian folk song, about an apparently defunct profession is quintessential Canadiana.  No one really makes animated films like this anymore.  The Log Driver’s Waltz was regularly played on TVO when I was a kid, so I am quite familiar with it.  It was one of the films I was desperate to see again, so I have to thank the NFB for giving it to the world for free.

I can understand that some people may not see the purpose of animating an old Canadian folk song.  Obviously, the audience for such a piece is limited.  That was certainly the case in 1979 when John Weldon took a version by Mountain City Four and turned it into a short film. It’s popularity, however, is almost unsurpassed in NFB history.  I think there are two main reasons for this.

First, as was the case for me, many people associate seeing this film with significant parts of their life.  It is directly linked to my childhood, and thus is a nostalgia piece. I’m sure many others share similar memories of the song and the film.

Second, it represents a way of life that is at the core of the Canadian experience.  Many of us who live in the bigger cities of the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes corridor may forget that this country was founded and has thrived on natural resources.  Logging, Pulp and Paper, Mining, Drilling, Fishing, Trapping, and Farming have been the backbone of Canada’s economic development for much of its history. Going forward, the vast supply of fresh water could surpass all of the items on that list. Certainly manufacturing, such as the steel mills of my hometown, have also played a significant role, but it would be hard to argue against natural resources as our greatest strength as a nation.  The Log Driver’s Waltz, without even intending to, casts the young lady in the role of Canada, as she realizes the value of the soft footed labourer against the bankers and doctors of the city.  Without vast natural resources, and the hard work it takes to extract them, there wouldn’t be much of a country here.

I think The Log Driver’s Waltz is an important piece of the cultural history of Canada.  The version heard here is performed in part by Kate and Anna MacGarrigle who showed up in my piece on Martha Wainwright’s concert.  I really believe that tru folk music is the sound of the soul of a nation.  In this case there can be little doubt.

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble (Two Lessons For The Price Of One)

March 22, 2009

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Today I bring you another National Film Board of Canada short film. This one is new to me, but I absolutely love it’s treatment of history.  Kern and I had a conversation on the podcast about modern documentaries and how many of them have taken the reality TV approach to teaching science and history.  I think that reality TV has convinced show producers that people crave extreme emotion.  Thus when telling an historical tale, the dramatic elements must be exaggerated, and the narrator must make every event seem like the most dire and important occurrence in history.  Perhaps educational television is being made by those who sat at the back of history class and fell asleep. At least they assume that everyone else was that person.

This 1978 Richard Condie documentary takes a fairly obscure piece of French history (oddly appropriate now though), adds a delightful cartoon, and creates a compelling story.  Besides being a lesson in speculation and currency, it is also, in my opinion, a superior method of teaching history.  The story is not over-dramatized besides the occasional comic cartoon foible.  Instead the story is presented mostly as it occured (though simplification is always a part of any documentary story), and without any unnecessary appeals to extreme emotion.  I think many of today’s documentary filmmakers could learn from this and other NFB docs.

One more question, shouldn’t cartoons play a bigger role in our education system? This doc shows how using imaginative animation can liven up a bit of financial history.  Just a thought.

If You’ve Got A Dream Like Mine

February 21, 2009

In this great land is one of the best rivers in the world. The beauty of the countryside cannot be overpraised, for the fertility of the soil, the extent of the forests, and the opportunities for hunting and fishing in abundance. All these things hold out their arms to you.

Samuel de Champlain

quoted in Dreams of a Land

Directed by Robert Doucet
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I have once again chosen to embed a short video for your enjoyment. This National Film Board documentary about Samuel de Champlain is both informative and creative. The story is told quickly, with an emphasis on Champlain’s dreams, ambitions, and struggles. The animation, which resembles crayon sketches, stirs the imagination and refuses to fill in all of the blanks. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is Champlain’s willingness first to travel back and forth to France for supplies each year to support his search for the Pacific Ocean, and second his desire to stay in Canada even after many of his men had died, and the “Great Sea” turned out to just be another freshwater lake. Here was a man who fell in love with this land, as the quote above demonstrates. As someone who has always loved history, particularly from the period of exploration, I find stories like Champlain’s to be both exciting and nightmarish. I can’t fathom watching my colleagues die from scurvy in the dead of a seemingly endless winter because our food has run out or frozen. I can’t imagine the punishing portages over difficult terrain, and the immense disappointment at failing to find a passage to India. But I can fall in love with the spirit of adventure, perserverance, courage, and self sacrafice that drew men like Champlain to cross the Atlantic in the first place, and to set up settlements in unforgiving climates, when life in France might have been more comfortable. No doubt the native peoples played an important part in ensuring the survival of colonists, and I certainly wish they had been treated better. As winter refuses to leave on a cold February day, I think it’s important to remember all those Native, French, British, or Dutch who endured the winters for centuries both out of necessity, and a love for this land.

White Collar Criminals

January 27, 2009

Friendly reminder about The Alder Fork From First to Worst Poetry Contest.  The entry deadline is less than a week away. Details here.

I have never embedded a video on here before, but the time is right. My friend Iwona, author of a previous post, is friends with many people in the film and theatre industry thanks to her boyfriend Sean, an aspiring actor.  The following video was the runner up in the 2009 Youtube Project Direct contest. Second place came with a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, and I think a screening. Anyway this is a clever short film that will both surprise and delight. Enjoy!