I spent some time thinking about what to say to about National Canadian Film Day. I thought of some funny things, a couple of Can Con jokes I could throw around like, “How many Canadian actors does it take to screw in a light bulb? One hundred, one to do it and ninety-nine to say ‘I could’ve done that.’” For obvious reasons I decided not to go that route.
Instead I cast my mind back to growing up.
I thought about living in small town Nova Scotia. I reflected on being a young man who hadn’t traveled anywhere yet, who imagined the West Coast was an exotic land where arbutus trees grew and nobody needed to own a parka.
I remembered the guy who spent most of his early life sitting at the Astor Theater in my town watching the images Canadian directors like Claude Jutra, Don Shebib and Ted Kotcheff created dance across the screen.
I thought about what I learned about my own country watching the visions of cinematographers like Eugene Boyko, John Spotton and their colleagues. They were pioneers who looked at our country and figured out a way to represent it honestly, on screens big and small.
For me the pictures of Toronto in Going Down the Road or Newfoundland in The Rowdyman, shaped the way but I thought about my country, and the way I thought about the people who lived in my country.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that the birth of the film and television industry in Canada in the 50s, 60s and 70s coincided with a renewal of nationalism nationwide. For the first time Canadians were treated to beautiful, lifelike, moving, in depth portraits of places like Dawson City courtesy of cinematographers Wolf Koenig and Colin Low in City of Gold; or the icy chill of Montreal, captured in Don’t Let the Angels Fall and an all encompassing look at us in Across This Land with Stompin’ Tom Connors.
Forget the railroad or the Trans Canada Highway, your images of what makes Canada and Canadians special are the things that really connected the country.
The camera has been called a time machine and when we look at the films shot by Canadian filmmakers we see our past, but we also see a glimpse of our future. The pioneering work done by those men and women laid the foundation for the industry we celebrate on April 20. In those images are the very essence of who we are as a people and the creative promise of the industry we have today.
Celebrate National Canadian Film Day by watching a Canadian film, for free, at locations all over the country. Find out more HERE.
It wasn’t the wind and snow that Thomas Haden Church found “punishing” when shooting the new psychological thriller Whitewash in northern Quebec, but the lack of it.
“You know how it goes,” he says. “You shoot one day and it’s the perfect conditions and two days later it’s 50 degrees (10 degrees Celsius) and you have to figure out a way to make it match. We had blizzards and we had giant fans with cornstarch.
“When we started shooting there was a storm blowing in but as God would have it three hours later there’s not a flake of snow floating through the air so they pull out the eight-foot fans and crank up the Corvette engines that drive them and start hucking cornstarch at me.
“It is still cold as all get out, and with those fans blowing sometimes you wish the blizzard would come back and they’d turn the fans off. Those fans will fling stuff at you at sixty miles an hour. Those things are punishing to stand in front of.”
The cornstarch plays a crucial role in the film’s opening and defining scene. During a whiteout snowstorm — enhanced with the white, fluffy thickener for extra effect — Church’s character Bruce takes a wild, drunken ride on a bulldozer that leaves a man dead.
Unnerved, he hides the body in a snow bank and lams it to the deep woods to avoid police and clear his head. “When I read it a buddy of mine who works with me said, ‘You know, sometimes you read ’em and you know what you know. You gotta go.’ I knew as soon as I read Whitewash I had to go. The challenges, the character, the uniqueness of the setting, the emotional complexity of what he goes through. There is tragedy but I think by the end of the movie there is this affirmation that everybody landed on the mortal coil where they were supposed to be.”
Church is in virtually every scene and delivers an extraordinary, minimalist performance.
He doesn’t appear to be doing much, but subtly rides the lines between sanity and insanity, between absurdity and logic, leaving the viewer off balance as the film veers between the present and flashbacks.
“Even as far back as working in television comedy as I did, I always wanted more nuance, more reflection, more moments of whatever the whisper line between comedy and drama is,” he says.
“That really is defined by human circumstance and human behavior. Even when we were promoting this picture that I did called Sideways, we’d do these big Q&As and one time this guy said, ‘It must be really interesting.
In the dramatic scenes you make very dramatic choices and in the comedic scenes you make very comedic choices.’ No man, maybe it sounds a bit elitist or pseudo-intellectual but I make human choices. I’m just trying to play a real guy.”