When Michael Sparaga’s superhero movie Sidekick won the people’s choice award at the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto two years ago, the prize included a Cineplex movie card, good for free admission for a year.
“That was the greatest year of my life,” says Sparaga, a Canadian filmmaker and unabashed cinematic patriot — but then he pauses for thought. “You know,” he continues ruefully, “I don’t think there was one Canadian movie in the 75 I saw that year.”
It wasn’t entirely his fault. If you stray from the Carlton or Toronto’s rep cinemas, it can be tricky to find a Canadian movie in Canada’s largest city. This inspired Sparaga to make the documentary Maple Flavour Films (note the “u” in that title, Alanis), in which he interviews regular Canadian filmgoers and industry players from coast to coast.
“The biggest surprise,” he reports, “was how much people wanted to love Canadian film. It was like asking, ‘Do you love your mother?’ ” Unfortunately, that desire didn’t always translate into bums in seats, or even the ability to name any great Canadian movies of the past year.
People on the streets were even stumped to recall what our film awards are called; they’re Genies, not Junos or Geminis. (Although to be fair, that all-J-sound nomenclature — the French ones are called Jutras –make it tricky to separate one from another.)
The latest Canadian Film Fest opens today and runs until Saturday, with screenings at the Varsity and Carlton. Founder and festival director Ben Euler says the reason for holding it is simple: “Not being able to find Canadian movies at the theatre. Anyone who’s tried knows it’s almost impossible.”
He remembers renting the 2000 werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, liking it, discovering it was Canadian and thinking, “How do I not know about this? How have I never heard about this?” From such incredulity was the festival born five years ago, and it has grown to include 15 screenings last year, seven of them sellouts.
Euler says there is no one answer to the dearth of Canadiana on the big screen, but he says marketing is a problem, since the big U.S. studios have a near lock on which trailers get shown. Toronto filmmaker Sudz Sutherland, for instance, couldn’t get a trailer for his 2003 film Love, Sex and Eating the Bones in front of Barbershop 2 audiences, who would have made a perfect match for his work.
In Maple Flavour Films, film critic Richard Crouse asks: “Who killed Canadian film? Well, you and I did because we didn’t go see them.” Here are five excellent Canadian films to see this week at the Canadian Film Fest (www.canfilmfest.ca). Ask not what films your country can serve you. Ask how you can serve them, and enjoy it.
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