A Cinematic Trip Around Canada
As I knew Canada Day was coming up, I wanted to write a post wherein I took a trip cinematically around Canada; considering the fact that I know the geography of Canada better than most countries I have never lived in. As I started trying to pick films by province or territory, I quickly realized there were some complications afoot.
The first complication being British Columbia, specifically Vancouver. Vancouver and its vicinity are a host to myriad productions, but due to the areas diverse geography it’s usually doubling as another city. Then there are the maritime provinces and northern territories, which are less frequently featured. It very quickly became clear that this post would first highlight some of the Canadian cinema I have seen and enjoyed, but would also serve an exploratory purpose and cause me to seek out new titles. Therefore, in conjunction with this post I will also create a Letterboxd list.
Essentially, the ideal is to have the film both set in and produced in the Canadian province mentioned. Co-productions will be valid for this list, but ideally I will be seeking Canadian productions.
I can’t exactly pinpoint where my fascination with all things Canadian began. Yes, I’ve always been obsessed with hockey, but this burgeoning affection during my childhood also coincided with many of my entertainment staples being either vaguely or blatantly made in Canada such as You Can’t Do That on Television, The Kids in the Hall, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and to an extent SCTV. Regardless, the affinity has always been there and since thanks both to the internet and internationally distributed calendars I’ve come to learn of Canada Day, and decided to compile at least the beginnings of a list.
To start with, I’ll include some films that traverse much of the nation in order to attempt to compensate for some of the areas wherein I’ve had difficulty finding selections.
In the vaguest sense of the word the recent NBC Sports Net documentary Cold War on Ice is an all-encompassing Canadian tale inasmuch as it deals with the 1972 Summit Series that pitted Canada’s best NHL talent versus the Soviet team. If you scripted a 8-game series the way this one unfolded it’d be hard to believe, but it actually happened.
If you trust the IMDb’s filming location info, and you can’t always, Canadian Bacon doesn’t traipse through nearly as much of Canada as it could. However, I do recall this film being quite funny and underrated in my mind. It’s a great collection of many of Canada’s finest and funniest, that does a tremendous deal of US-themed satire also, as it’s directed by none other than Michael Moore.
Now, in compiling these suggestions I realized that many areas in the country were a bit underpopulated in terms of films I have already seen. Therefore, I turned to my Twitter friends north of the border and received many suggestions, which I’ll include throughout all sections of the post starting now:
One international production suggested to me by was The 49th Parallel, a film I’ve meant to see but have not yet, it chronicles a U-Boat stranded in northern Canada during World War II.
One Week was also suggested to me by quite a few people and it’s one that upon being reminded of it I realize that I was interested in it when it had just come out. The film is about a man seeking meaning in his life on a cross-country motorcycle trip.
I go to Quebec next because, while Canada is a predominantly Anglophonic nation, it is also a Francophonic nation and due to that fact Canada has regularly submitted a Best Foreign Language Film nominee since 1971. In that time five Canadian films have been nominated: Jesus of Montreal, The Decline of the American Empire, The Barbarian Invasions (Won), Days of Darkness and Incendies.
The Quebecois cinema does have its own mark of originality as it can at times produce perfectly distilled hybrids of European and North American sensibilities, having at the same times an always unique voice on the world cinema stage.
Some other films from Quebec I’ve seen and enjoyed greatly are: The Red Violin, while this is a globe-trotting, time-traveling tale with a star-filled cast, the present day action does occur in Montreal. It’s writer-director is French-Canadian, Francois Giraud, and it’s a film I’ve seen many times over that I enjoy tremendously.
A completely French-Canadian film (were my revisionist BAM Awards still legitimate would’ve won many awards) called Leolo. It’s a poetic, bizarre and unique tale of a young boy’s adolescence in 1970s Montreal. Sadly, this was the last vision Jean-Claude Lauzon brought to fruition as he tragically died in a plane crash in 1997.
Sitting in my to be watched pile is the Criterion Collection edition of Mon Oncle Antoine. Films I was suggested for Quebec include: Ma vie en CinemaScope, C.R.A.Z.Y., Le Chat dans le Sac, L’eau Chaude L’Eau Frette, Gerry, Going the Distance (1979) and Bon Cop, Bad Cop.
British Columbia is one of the trickiest as mentioned above. For the time being, I’ll have to stick with suggestions kindly provided me by a friend. In the meantime, rest assured that if you’ve seen enough movies you’ve likely seen British Columbia in disguise and didn’t realize it.
The suggestions were The Grey Fox, about a gentleman bandit who heads north after years in jail to ply his trade in Canada and My American Cousin, which tells a tale of a mysterious visit from a family member and the intrigue it introduces to a Canadian family’s life.
And also a suggestion was Everything’s Gone Green about a man who’s tries to work a money laundering scheme while working at a lottery magazine.
This is perhaps the best and most rewarding part of this post to me. The reward is that again thanks to those who responded to my Twitter inquiries I now have more Nova Scotia-based tales to seek out Margaret’s Museum and New Waterford Girl.
It was, however, one of the places I had a ready suggestion for but just the one. Pit Pony is one of those properties that you come across by chance. I first became familiar with it due to the television series that expanded upon the story, which bounced around several different US broadcasters. It’s one of the few shows I’ve seen in their entirety on multiple occasions. It reaffirms my belief that, although rarely implemented, the half-hour drama, especially when shot single-camera, is the most effective TV format. You have in this series palpable drama, romance, all in a turn of the century mining town so there’s a Dickensian struggle to is also.
Eventually, the TV show lead me to seek out the novel upon which it was based, and also the feature film that kickstarted the series. The film is essentially very faithful to the book and the series picks up from there spinning out new tales. In some ways the film isn’t as cinematic as the show is at its best. However, the emotional truth is there owing mostly to the fact that is shares many of the same actors. The various incarnations of the story but mainly the series is why Nova Scotia is near the top of my list of places to go; those vistas need to be seen in person.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Here is another part of the country wherein I was very glad to have a helping hand. I’ve honestly not seen anything set or produced in this province as of yet. However, with The Shipping News, which was suggested by a few people, and Rowdyman that should be quickly remedied.
Ontario, Toronto specifically is another city, which while not as renowned as Vancouver, is a chameleon. Yet there are some very clear examples of films made there where the setting is either clearly Ontario or is vague thus makes it somewhat Canadian in my mind all the same.
If you haven’t seen Pontypool remedy that. I do want to revisit it, and while I’m not currently crazy about the third act, it is truly effective stuff.
It’s likely a film I should’ve included on my Embarrassed to Say list but I saw Videodrome for the first time not too long ago and it wouldn’t be what it is if not made by Cronenberg and Cronenberg wouldn’t be Cronenberg without being Canadian. Both he and Atom Egoyan made many a film in Canada, though perhaps not specifically set there. However, Egoyan’s earlier works all seem to be and are well worth seeing.
I have said previously how underrated and amazing I think The Kids in The Hall: Brain Candy is. While it too falls into the vague category and does make a lot of commentary apropos of 90s America, it’s still The Kids in the Hall, in my head (where it’s 72 degrees all the time) this movie is in Canada.
Suggested to me: Nobody Waved Goodbye and Breakfast with Scot.
Northwest Territories and Nunavut
There are two reasons I had to combine these two territories: First, since Nunavut came into being in 1999 a boundary may have shifted moving a previously made film from the Northwest Territory to Nunavut. Second, specific information is hard to find on productions that shoot that far north so to play it safe I’ll discuss both rather than being incorrect.
One film that was suggested to me was Atanarjuat: Fast Runner, which I recall seeing during its initial US Theatrical release at the Angelika in New York I believe.
That film was the first installment of a loose trilogy, I have yet to see the middle film, but the third Before Tomorrow was one of my favorite films in 2009 and won a BAM for its cinematography. I believe the only location cited in the filming is northern Quebec and I don’t recall if it was supposed to be doubling for the even further north Nunavut isles or if it was supposed to be a literal setting.
From a film history perspective Nanook of the North is an early groundbreaking documentary even though the titles offer a clearly biased (at times racist), dated interpretation of the footage it’s still an interesting film, but an American one.
When I think of Manitoba cinematically one name jumps immediately to the fore: Guy Maddin. I was suggested The Saddest Music in the World but would submit My Winnipeg a wonderfully personal, bizarre and artful portrait of a man and his strange relationship with his hometown. The narration, which is plentiful and great has been published as a book and would make a great companion to the film if you can track it down on DVD.
Seeing as how two National Film Board animated shorts were nominated for the Oscars this year I spotlighted a great Canadian short in a Short Film Saturday post: The Cat Came Back is one of my single favorite animated shorts ever.
The Nature of Nicholas, which is a tremendously creative, well-crafted, surreal fable about a boy struggling with his feelings for his best friend.
This proved to be a tough one for me to figure also. I know the Canadian rockies and plains have been used as substitutes but to find a film shot and set there was a challenge. I didn’t want to cheat here with something like King’s Ransom, the ESPN Films doc about the Wayne Gretzky trade. However, answers did find me…
The first was via a tremendous suggestion by one of those I asked for input and a response I got was Passchendaele, which is a tale of a veteran his girlfriend, a nurse and a naive child during World War I, which sounds like a film well worth seeking out.
Then I was reminded of my second favorite Oscar nominated animated short from this year: Wild Life. You can read my thoughts on it here.
Lastly, like a bolt of lightning it struck me to search out information on perhaps the most successful lampoon for the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 gang: The Final Sacrifice. Now, typically I will go on laughing jags in good MST3K episodes. However, never before in one of these episodes was I fighting against asphyxiation so hard, never did my face hurt so from laughing, nor did cry from laughing so hard; as when I first watched this film. Like a typical selection by the show, it’s not quality cinema but this is one of those bad movies that really goes for it, which makes it enjoyable in its own right. It’s not one of those limp, plotless trudges it gives them a lot to play off of. This film tries hard, it creates a mythology and perhaps the greatest character name ever, and I’d argue a decent anti-hero; Zap Rowsdower. So after struggling, I did find some Alberta product that is rather intriguing in one way or another.
Saskatchewan was another one I had a tough time with. When I first really started to watch and follow Canadian football I was drawn to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in part because that’s the professional team there. I subsequently learned a bit more about the region but I don’t believe I’ve seen a film made in and set in the province, I could be wrong but it’s not coming to mind at the moment.
Here is where a suggestion came in handy, again this one was Brendan Meyer’s: Why Shoot The Teacher? which tells the tale of a young man who just graduated college in the east and the only job offer he receives is in a one-room school house in the prairies. There’s a clear clash and fish-out-of-water element but eventually he does connect to the place and the people and they to him. It’s one of the more intriguing suggestions I received.
I had to go and search the IMDb because my inquiries did not yield results for the Yukon, though there are some interesting ones at least in terms of locations.
The recent film The Big Year had scenes there though I suspect doubling. A recent horror film entitled Whisper used the Yukon to double for New England. Therefore, the most recent film that was both shot in and set in the Yukon, I believe, is the 1983 Disney film Never Cry Wolf.
Its an area with a fascinating history and great scenic locations, which could be utilized more.
Prince Edward Island
Part of what I really enjoy about expansive posts like this one is that I invariably learn things. Now, clearly I found many films worth pursuing but where I learned most was here. I got no suggestions for PEI and it nearly slipped my mind. However, the IMDb didn’t offer much in the way of film productions set there. I did discover that there is quite a bit of legacy on Prince Edward Island in the person of Lucy Maud Montgomery whose novels about Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables that are renowned the world over. Television productions, be they series or TV movies of the books, were filmed there but apparently no feature film adaptation was shot there. It is quite impressive that two such well-known series not only came from the same author but round out this post nicely.
I already knew Canada offered diverse film selections but approaching it this way I came away with myriad titles to seek out and discover, along with some others I was aware of but didn’t include here. If you’re interested in assembling your own tour there are several resources you can check out, you’ll find two below:
You can also visit and search via provincial or territorial film boards.