Critical dialogue
Canadian film

by Peter Harcourt

from Jump Cut, no. 23, Oct. 1980, p. 39
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1980, 2005

First of all, let me thank you for providing so much space and so thoughtful a review for what is, demonstrably (certainly in its printed form) a popularized and over-simplified piece of my work — my book, Movies and Mythologies (reviewed by Blaine Allan in JUMP CUT 20). However, might I be allowed a few comments, less in defense of the book than of the Canadian situation?

As all readers of Frantz Fanon well recognize, one of the key techniques of an imperialist power is to divide the colonized peoples against themselves to disperse their "revolutionary" energies. Helped by the sell-out policies of our federal governments, this is what has happened in Canada. Because our major theatre chains are U.S. owned and because the majority of our television companies reserve primetime viewing for the U.S. product, the vertical links between British Columbia and Washington State, between Ontario and the State of New York, between New Brunswick and Maine are far stronger in the imaginations of most Canadians than are the horizontal links that might connect our east with our west.

Less centralized in our broadcasting policies than the United States, less confident in ourselves as a nation, we are divided against ourselves. British Columbia resents Quebec, Alberta doesn't want to subsidize the Maritimes, and everybody hates Ontario. This feeling of divisiveness encourages political ineffectuality and ideological confusion. As an over-developed third-world country, Canada doesn't know what it is. Very few Canadians recognize that, both economically and culturally, we are dominated by the united States. At the invitation of our governing elite, Americans have bought up our industries and have colonized our minds.

It is true, as Blame Allan argues, our regional life is active and various; but there are elements in common between Jack Darcus in British Columbia and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre in Quebec. Not only do they both make very personal films but they both share the same conditions of production. They equally share the limited access available to them in this country. The work of neither filmmaker has ever played theatrically in Ontario.

Certainly, as a polemic, my arguments are elementary — but not dangerous; certainly, they are transitory — but not counterproductive. Outside of specialized centres and of even more specialized film courses, the majority of Canadians are not even aware that there are any Canadian films — whether "quality" films or otherwise.

Objecting to my enthusiasm about LONELY BOY, the National Film Board documentary on the young Paul Anka, Blaine Allan questions its right to be "Canadian." Because so much of it was shot in the United States, Allan implies it might just as well be American. As throughout his review, Allan seems to confuse national characteristics with geography. LONELY BOY is Canadian because it was made by Canadians about a Canadian and it draws upon the candid camera techniques developed by a special unit at the Film Board, the much applauded "unit m', that was active at that time. More than that; LONELY BOY is Canadian because it depicts a typical Canadian dilemma. For Paul Anka, a successful entertainer within his own country, there was only one thing he could do: move to the United States,

LONELY BOY inscribes its own methodology - perhaps the one most dominant in the minds of most Canadians: success is elsewhere. To be fully valued "here" you have to be acknowledged "there." In this way — far beyond the intentions of the filmmakers — LONELY BOY becomes archetypal of the colonized Canadian situation. Standards are established elsewhere. "Reality" is somewhere else.