Why have we played Host & Mistress to so many Hollywood big boys? Why Don’t Canadians Watch Their Own Films?

            Imagine if Canada had created a Hollywood North. Indeed, Canada’s first response to the primacy of Hollywood was the concept of creating a Hollywood North, it’s just that Hollywood in the States got a head start. Many of us are quick to assume that Canadian films are amateur, but in reality many of them are really well done. D.W. Griffith, an American director best known for the film Birth of a Nation, once said, “You in Canada should not be dependent on either the United States or Great Britain. You should have your own films and exchange them with those of other countries. You can make them just as well in Toronto as in New York.” Then why are we so quick to assume that Canadian films are amateur? Why don’t Canadians watch Canadian films?

            Being aware of how Hollywood got a head start would probably help us understand why Canada fell behind in the production of films and, more importantly, will help us realize why American films are so dominant and popular. Canada was slow in entering the film industry because of three reasons. First, at the time when Hollywood was rising, there were no large cities in Canada (that’s not including Montreal but even then they did not have a huge population). This meant that there was no audience for their films. Secondly, there was no one willing to invest money into Canadian films. Canadians have been known to be more careful with their money, it’s the Americans who are the risk-takers. Lastly, there existed no national live theatre yet, like Stratford.

If one thinks about the average budget for an American film, roughly 120 to 200 million dollars, and compares it to the amount Telefilm Canada distributes amongst numerous Canadians directors annually, 110 million dollars, one can see why it’s a much harder task to create a Canadian film. On top of this, the American film studios have several millions of dollars to spend on advertising their films, which is a huge advantage because it gets a large amount of people to actually watch their films. Unfortunately, since Canadian movies do not have that advantage, most Canadians are simply unaware of the Canadian films that do exist so they will not go and see it.

The American film industry also had a huge head start and advantage because of the world wars – European film studios were being bombed during the wars, so American films filled the gap. American film studios have access to a lot more money, and especially in these days since they have these huge corporations such as Time Warner, Sony, and others controlling much of the media, they have the extra money needed to spend on advertising. The U.S. has had a huge cultural influence market and has a large population – so mass amounts of people paid to go see the American movies and that meant that the studios had money again to make bigger movies. Their diverse culture has also always been a big advantage to them, seeing as they had to make more accessible movies with simple plots and universal themes, and this attracted a wide variety of people, especially immigrants (the magic of American films is simply that they make films that everyone can relate to). Last and more importantly is that the Hollywood studios have been organized into the Major Motion Picture Association and that means they work together to promote their films, set up American movie chains in other countries and distribute their films globally.

So it’s not so much that Canadian films aren’t well done, or that Canadians are simply uninterested in their own films – it’s more than that. There is a much larger institution backing this up, making sure the American movies are globally dominating the film industry.  When it comes down to the actual films that Canada is making, they are incredibly well done. Every year, Canadian films find a spot in Oscar nominations. Not amateur at all.

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Imagine Django being created in a Canadian context – with Aboriginals instead of black slaves.

Is it crazy to even think that? How crazy is it though? 

There’s been a lot of talk and controversy about the content in Django Unchained and how if it was any other director or if it was made in any other country it probably wouldn’t have been received as well as it did. So imagine if some Canadian director decided to direct and write this movie. Would he have done it in a Canadian context and instead of black slaves it would be a revenge story of Canadian Natives who had their land, culture, language, and rituals stripped away from them? Would it be just as economically successful, do you think?

I can’t claim to know all the answers to these questions but I will say – I would watch a movie like that. In fact, I think Canada NEEDS a movie like that. Heck, I’ll write it! 

I just think the Natives of Canada truly need to be heard by our so-called multicultural country.

I wrote a position piece recently, on the fact that it’s really strange how Canada can be considered such a multicultural society (actually a lot of us take pride in describing our country as such), when we actually aren’t. We may be welcoming and accepting of other ethnicities and cultures and all that jazz, but we are not really all that multicultural. Here’s the piece I wrote – may it be some food for thought:

            Multiculturalism is the over-used adjective to describe Canada. The question that should be asked here is “why?” Is it true that very few countries in the world can boast of the cultural diversity found here? And what makes Canada more multicultural than the USA? Perhaps many people could argue that they generally have a “melting pot” culture. However, although Canada may be multicultural in the sense that there are people here of many different races and cultures, there are those who can argue that this does not prevent us from being disconnected from the other cultures that are not our own. Can one really say that by occasionally eating Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Portuguese, or French food that would make you a multicultural person? Let’s be honest with ourselves.

            It is not to say that there aren’t multitudes of people of different races and ethnicities that co-exist in Canada, because indeed there are. However, there is a disconnect between cultures. What is truly practiced here is selective multiculturalism. For example, one may find a number of restaurants that provide different ethnic foods, but one would rarely find other forms of cultural representations such as dress, language, and rituals in the same cities.

            Take a moment to think about the Aboriginals – or more specifically, think about them keeping in mind the historical relationship between the Natives and the European immigrants in Canada. The immigrants, who put the Aboriginals in reserves, did little to facilitate a harmonious existence between them. The foundation of this relationship is still evident today, when you think about the fact that the Aboriginals practice their rituals geographically separate from their Canadian counterparts. This historical and continuing cultural separation in itself, to a certain extent, reflects the kind of multiculturalism we have today. The alienation of Natives have not been effectively addressed, since the cultural divide is continuously increasing, and efforts to promote integration have been inadequate. As a result, it’s difficult to understand how multiculturalism can be said to exist when this crucial relationship with the peoples of Canada depicts so many flaws.

            In many ways, Canada has fallen short in this description of being a multicultural country. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Canada is on its way to achieving an ideal multicultural society – because it certainly hasn’t reached this status yet. The reality at the end of the day is that Canada is young, and we have to give our country a break. Maybe Canada is still trying to find its identity. Do we want Canada to be known as a truly multicultural country? Then it is up to us Canadian citizens to work towards that admirable goal and make it happen.