Alan Bacchus is a Canadian film writer and critic whose blog Canadian Film Dose offers commentary and erudite criticism on the whole wash of Canadian cinema, from major releases (inasmuch as any Canadian film can be said to be treated to a “major release”) to arthouse staples and oft-forgotten cult gems.
This summer, Bacchus began hosting the Canadian Cinema in Revue series at the Revue Cinema in Toronto (400 Roncesvalles Ave). Avoiding Rude, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Jesus de Montreal, Exotica, Crash and all the other canon Canuck films you learned about from CanCin 101 (or Showcase After Dark), the series focuses more on what Bacchus terms “mainstream-edgy” Canadian cinema. The series also includes the screening of shorts, and Q&A sessions with filmmakers.
Slated next is Andrew Currie’s ‘50s-kitsch zom-com FIDO, screening at the revue next Monday at 7:00pm at the Revue. I spoke with Mr. Bacchus about his blog, the Canadian Cinema in Revue programme, and the cultural cringe towards Canadian cinema in general.
What motivated you to start the Canadian Film Dose Blog?
I have a daily blog (www.dailyfilmdose.com), which I had been running for over a year before I thought about Canadian Film Dose. I thought it would be good to have a place devoted to all the Canadian films I reviewed and discussed. I scoured the internet and there were few if any blogs devoted to Canadian film. And so I thought this could be a good independent source for discussion, criticism, and some cheerleading. It's not puff pieces though, my critical hat is always on.
Do you feel there's some sort of aversion in Canada towards our own films, a sort of "cultural cringe"?
Yes. There's definitely an aversion which is not unfounded. But here's what Canadian (taxpaying) audiences need to know: Yes, there are lots of bad films made in Canada, it's true back then, it's true now, and it will always be true. But there are also good films made here and even once or twice a year or more, great films made in Canada. People tend to focus on the bad ones because well... they have to be shown. When a film is financed, usually domestic distribution and TV pre-sales are part of the financing. They are often the triggers to get it made. And there are also guarantees that the film will be shown as part of the license agreement. Broadcasters/Distributors don't intend to license bad films, but we have to take risks and gamble that a project, when realized, might actually work and be entertaining. Of course, this isn't always the case, and we sometimes end up with bad movies that contractually have to be aired. And certainly with Government-mandated Cancon, sometimes films get made when they shouldn't get made. So when a naive channel surfer happens to land on bad Canadian film at 2:00am on a Saturday night this is where this aversion comes from.
Other comparable countries like Australia and Germany make as many bad movies as us, but we don't get exposed to them. International distribution naturally acts as a filter so only the good films from other countries get shown here in Canada, thus leaving the crap to be shown only domestically. So if you talk to a filmgoer in Germany or Australia they have the exact same complaints as Canadians. We're not alone.
The reason why Canadians don't see the good films, (generalizing a complex problem), is that there just isn't the money in marketing and advertising to put behind Canadian films to create the awareness. Lay audiences watch what's literally put in right in front of them (via print ads, trailers, commercials, McDonalds toys), and Canadian distributors just don't have the money to compete with the big boys. So it takes this type of grassroots cheerleading to get people to see the good films.
How did you get involved with the Revue theatre for the Canadian Cinema in Revue series?
I read on their website they were looking for people to help and volunteer. So I met Ellen Moorhouse who's on the Board and she sensed my passion for Canadian film and suggested that I curate a Canadian Film series. It didn't take long for me to formulate the format and an action plan. The Revue is also my absolute favourite Rep cinema. The smaller seating capacity combined with the big screen makes for a more intimate environment without sacrifice for the spectacle of the big screen experience.
What kind of films do you try to show for these screenings? Why the focus on more "cult" or contemporary Canuxploitation films than the typically weepy, sentimentalized stuff that people tend to associate with Canadian cinema (Egoyan, Arcand, Rozema, etc.)?
I don't think 'Cult' is necessarily the best word, but maybe 'mainstream-edgy.' "Cult" has connotations of weird fetishes and stuff. But really it started with my own personal taste, what I think are great films that I would like to see on the big screen again. Cube, Fido and It’s All Gone Pete Tong are really cool and entertaining films accessible to a wide audience of 'regular' people. We will likely run out of 'mainstream-edgy' films eventually and so it can be a restrictive mandate. Eventually I would definitely like to screen some Arcand and Egoyan (to generalize those two filmmakers as 'art house'). I plan to have Decline of the American Empire in the next batch because well...it's a very funny and accessible film. I also have a soft spot for [Egoyan’s] Where The Truth Lies, which was not well-received, but I think is a misunderstood film. Also David Christensen's Six Figures, the last film of this summer program is definitely an art house flick. But despite the acclaim it was little seen by anyone, even in the film industry. It's the anomaly of the bunch.
Is there any method to your pairing of certain features with certain shorts?
Yes, for the most part I'm trying to find fun and entertaining shorts, which compliment the theme or genre of the feature. I'm specifically staying away from 'heavy' material, not because there aren't great short films made about heavy subject, but for the sake of entertainment it's easier to warm up a crowd with something light and funny. That being said the short preceding Six Figures is a dark film - "Still Life" - a horror film about a man who thinks mannequin zombies are attacking him. It's disturbing but campy and a fun genre-film.
What can you say about FIDO? How does it function within the larger resurgence of zombie cinema, from Shaun of the Dead through to Pontypool?
Fido definitely fits in well with SOD and Pontypool. It's not a horror film though and doesn't even try to scare people, but it lampoons this new subgenre of zombie films by applying a 180-degree opposite Douglas Sirkian 1950's melodrama template to it. It's a deadpan satire at heart and shouldn't really be over-intellectualized but it takes the postmodernism of Shawn of the Dead to a whole other level, beyond mere self-reference - a whole alternate reality is created just for the film.
How did the Cube screening go over?
Cube went well. Admittedly it wasn't a sold out house, but it was our first screening and we're hoping word of mouth of the event will spread. We had a lot of fun. The opening short “Elevated” was Vincenzo Natali's short film he made before Cube. It was on the original 16mm print. The sound was a little wonky but it had a real organic film quality which added to the experience. It's also a really fucking good short horror film. The Q&A was really cool too. We skyped in Vincenzo onto our big screen and had Vincenzo's co-writer and old roommate Andre Bijelic on the floor in person interacting as well.
Do you plan on continuing this series beyond September, maybe making it a year-round thing?
Yes, the first four films is our pilot project. And we will continue on for another four films in the Fall. So we'll probably program these screenings by the season.
For more about the historic Revue Cinema, click here.