Sunday, February 22, 2015

A rant re: BC film (again)

I've always found Vancouverites (to speak of them as a vast homegeneous mass, which they obviously aren't) both narcissistic and insecure about their city. Are we or are we not the most beautiful place to live in the world? Are we or are we not a world class city? Are we or are we not one of the least affordable cities? Good or bad, we love surveys that place us in the top ten of anything (do we or do we not have the highest population per capita of drug-addicted homeless and mentally ill wandering our sidewalks?) and we seem to be forever quoting them at each other, like we're trying to prove our pretty little provincial backwater actually counts for something. But there's obviously more than a little fear that we don't. A hint from my years of psychedelic introspection, folks: if there's something you're afraid of about yourself, if you go around worrying all the time that you're too this or not enough that... then the fact is, it's probably true, and you need to accept it and get on with things. BC is a pretty little provincial backwater, though not without value. If we're not exactly a world class city, we're a world class location, because of the trees and mountains and fresh air and water and so forth, but that doesn't mean we should feel an inflated sense of pride for living here; none of these are things we have accomplished. (Nor are they things that we'll have much longer if we keep selling our resources off to the lowest bidders!). We need to take stock of what really is valuable about this province (whether it's our water or our culture or something else) and to take steps to defend it, to preserve it, to feel a real pride in what we really have accomplished here, rather than obsessing about where we rank on this-or-that international survey...

When it comes to cinema, considering how self-obsessed we are, it seems strange to me that there's so little awareness of BC as a hotbed for film producton. There are odd books, sure, like Spaner's Dreaming in the Rain, but, like, during my time at UBC, I brought up to a couple of people in the film department the idea of having a course that dealt with films made out of BC, or even out of UBC, and people seemed puzzled by the idea, not exactly enthusiastic. There are some very interesting films (anyone remember Mary Daniel's Connecting Lines?) that have been completely forgotten by our province. that never resurface, that probably are just aging in cannisters somewhere, essentially lost due to total neglect and lack of resources to preserve them. Even active filmmakers like Oliver Hockenhull, whose doc on psychedelics is going to play the Cinematheque soon, can find very little interest in properly archiving their older films for preservation; his first film, an experimental documentary about the Squamish Five, Determinations, is only viewable on home video through a VHS tape that Hockenhull made by pointing a recorder at a wall where the film was being projected! (Or so he told me, last year; maybe things have gotten better since?).

If we need external validation that these things are worthy of preserving, note that one of my proudest moments as a BC film enthusiast came when I visited Japan, popped into a VHS rental store in Kawagoe, in Saitama-ken, and saw not only that they had a "Canadian film" section, but that Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed was on the shelf. I actually went out of my way on eBay to buy a Japanese poster for that movie, because of that connection. It was her UBC thesis film, folks, and here it was representing BC on the shelf of a video store across the Pacific! ...I can't begin to explain how proud I felt. As I've ranted about elsewhere, I find it really troubling that a filmmaker as talented as Stopkewich - who should be regarded as a provincial treasure - has been working in TV since 2000, when her second feature film was completed, Suspicious River. (I mean, she's made one short film somewhere in there, too, but - I mean, it's a short film. How do you even see those, anyhow?). I mean, great she's working, but why shouldn't it be easy for someone as accomplished as she is to have a career making feature films? What's wrong with our province, these days? (Could it have anything to do with the shallow vulgarians we elect for office?).
And okay, so - never mind BC film, what about the films that were shot here? If I were responsible for tourism on Bowen Island, for instance, I'd do my best to curate a little museum with stills from actors who have been there, along with a map of locations that people could visit on the island ("visit Ida Lupino's cabin from Food of the Gods!") and a DVD library from which overnight visitors to the island could check out movies that were shot there. (Silly as I am, I actually have phoned a couple of places related to Bowen Island tourism to see if any resources for promoting Bowen's film history exist; of course none do!). And if I ran Cineplex or so forth I would make a point of promoting every single shot-in-BC film as having been made here - to put a little star or something beside every listing for a BC made film, so that consuming our own province could be part of the experience of watching these movies. A recent case-in-point: I neither enjoyed nor despised Fifty Shades  of Grey - it's not a horribly constructed film, it has a couple of cute moments, and its problematic gender politics are simply not surprising or unusual enough to seem actively offensive (la la... viriginal sexless girl loves controlling rich man... la la... look at her tits!). But I totally enjoyed trying to spot the Vancouver locations. How I had been allowed, as a BC film viewer, to get into the theatre without knowing it was shot here I don't know, though I enjoyed the surprise. Still, I bet there were a few people who had no clue that they weren't actually seeing Portland or Seattle up there on the screen. I would have one of those useless little minions who have to walk in front of the audience every now and then to do some silly safety check bullshit announce to the audience to keep an eye out for familiar locations so that even the sleepy-eyed can play. Hey, maybe there could be a smartphone section of the seats where people tweet places they recognize - Hotel Vancouver! - and win a prize for the most correct answers....?

People with an interest in reading me rant further on this topic should see my interview with Bruce Sweeney, Gabrielle Rose, and briefly, via email, Lynne Stopkewich herself, in Cineaction 89. They also might want to check out The Image Before Us: A History of Film In British Columbia, at the Pacific Cinematheque. I've seen and loved two of the films in the program, Bruce Sweeney's unforgettable dark comedy Dirty and Nathaniel Geary's harrowing, honest portrait of life on East Hastings, On the Corner. They'd be on any top ten list I could prepare of BC films that everyone living in this province simply must see - and see on film, since Dirty is presently unavailable for any home video viewing (unless you find the old VHS around somewhere) and On the Corner, while it did come out on DVD, looks far, far better projected (the shot-on-video quality is far less glaringly obvious, for some reason; it actually looks like a film, when projected, but looks like it was shot with Uncle Joe's camcorder when you see it on DVD). There's also a bunch of films I've never seen that are going to screen - like The Grey Fox, also unavailable digitally, and Double Happiness, by Mina Shum. I'll be sure to check Blockade, as well, screening the night before my Clearcut event at the Vancity Theatre... interesting that there are documentaries as well as fictional features set to screen...

British Columbia has had a really interesting and active film culture, and too few of the people living here make time for it. This is a very interesting programme, curated by Emily Carr's Harry Killas. We've already missed a few films on it, but there's plenty more where they came from, so... let's get out and support it, eh?


David M. said...

I have "Dirty" on DVD, and you know it.

Allan MacInnis said...

Heh. David, here, is referring to the fact that I asked him to transfer my VHS tape of Dirty onto a DVDr. Not exactly a DVD "release," there, Mr. Matychuk.

See the film?