- The Young, the Restless, and the Dead:Interviews with Canadian Filmmakers
In 2004, George Melnyk published his disappointing One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema (UTP). This facile and derivative history of film in Canada was accurately described by one reviewer as 'a "history" that contains virtually no historical research . . . [and] makes no contribution at all.' Perhaps realizing that he would never cut it as a bona fide film historian, Melnyk has since channelled his considerable energies towards editing, rather than authoring, books on Canadian film. Good idea! Following an anthology on Great Canadian Film Directors (2007) and preceding the forthcoming The Gendered Screen: Canadian Women Filmmakers, his current contribution to the field is an awkwardly titled but worthy collection of interviews with Canadian filmmakers conducted by a number of well-known film scholars and practitioners.
In this collection, the first volume in a planned series of similar anthologies, Melnyk wisely limits his critical commentary to a brief introduction. This way, he manages to avoid writing too many platitudes. As it [End Page 473] is, the short preface counts only a few hackneyed remarks, such as the statement that, because he directed a Canada-UK co-production in 2004, Michael Dowse now 'represents the new globalized generation of Canadian film directors for whom there are no territorial boundaries in the creative consciousness.' In addition to the fact that this sentence comprises at least four clichés, Melnyk also seems to forget that Paul Almond, Claude Jutra, and other Canadian cineastes were already involved in international networks of film financing in the 1960s and 1970s. So this 'new globalized generation' is not new at all.
But to his credit, Melnyk knows to cut to the chase and quickly wraps up his prologue to let us enjoy the interviews. Although there are - unavoidably - weaker sections in the book, it does contain some fascinating moments where readers feel that they are listening in on a friendly conversation between cineaste and cinephile. This is especially true of the passages where Mina Shum chats with contagious enthusiasm about her Taoist-inspired kung fu comedy project (still unrealized), The Immortals. One can almost hear Shum's lively voice in her excited responses to Jackie Levitin's questions.
The interview, or more accurately, the dialogue between Anne Wheeler and Peggy Thompson, who collaborated on Better than Chocolate (1999), also makes for an engaging exchange that transcends the traditional interview format. Similarly, reading Thompson's successive interviews with the dynamic trio at the helm of Anagram Pictures, Andrew Currie, Trent Carlson, and Blake Corbet, provides uncommon insight into the collaborative relationship among these three very different but complementary personalities. And of course, it is always fun to read the words of the perversely articulate Guy Maddin and the unassumingly subversive Lynne Stopkewich.
Most stimulating about this collection is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the filmmakers interviewed have deep roots in Western Canada. This editorial choice is to be praised, not only because it offers a refreshing alternative to the self-righteous elucubrations of the navel-gazing 'Toronto New Wave' gang, but also because it offers a different perspective on the peculiar cultural policies of Canadian film-funding agencies. For instance, when asked whether living in Calgary hurt his career, Gary Burns admits, 'Telefilm and Canada Council like the regional. They want to spread their money around. At least that was something I always thought was to my advantage . . . I was certainly known as the guy from Calgary for the first couple of films.' Who would have thought that being from Alberta could actually help you get funding?
Given the Western Canadian bias of the collection, one might be surprised to see a Québécois filmmaker included at the end of this collection, the late Jean-Claude Lauzon (the 'Dead' of the collection's gauche title). But within the framework of an English-Canadian publication on [End Page 474] Canadian filmmakers, it is not surprising that Melnyk would feel compelled to include one (but only one!) French-Canadian...