- Shooting From the East: Filmmaking on the Canadian Atlantic by Darrell Varga
Darrell Varga's new book, Shooting from the East, may have achieved the un-thinkable: he's provided an account of Canadian film production culture so lively that it actually encourages us to watch the films he writes about. Including lots of excerpts from personal interviews with filmmakers, close readings of both familiar and unfamiliar work, and some revelations from the archives, the book assumes a stance at once theoretically rigorous and rhetorically down-to-earth. For instance, between snippets from theorists Henri Lefebvre, Homi Bhabha and Bill Nichols, we find the author referring to characters in some of the films as "locals," "geezers" and "oddballs," which immediately serves to deflate much of the cultural capital of the high theory. Or, rather, and this is probably closer to Varga's intention, the theory he's using is woven with the raw material of the everyday; in this book, theories about spatial relations, nationalism, racial relations, global culture and class relations provide a rich lens through which to imagine the radical possibilities of regional cinema.
Many of the films and related activities and events that are featured in Shooting from The East are meant to serve as examples of regional cinema as political praxis, one that challenges the centrist bias and privilege of Canadian cinema and the suffocating effects of global commercial cinema most often associated with Hollywood. There's a wealth of proof of the viability of this radical cinema politics, Varga argues, if one considers the richness and integrity of the best of Atlantic filmmaking culture—from art films made in the region to the film co-ops that sustain a diverse range of filmmaking practices. But, this requires a change of perspective and, throughout the book, Varga explains how the meaning of regional cinema depends on who determines the centre, and where that centre is located. In the spirit of Canadian scholars going back as far as Grant and Innis, but using the language of contemporary theory, Varga asserts that, viewed from a critical spatial perspective, "the discourse of power is written on the space of the nation" (323). The dominance of Central Canada—the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto corridor—throughout the nation's filmmaking history has positioned all other sites of film activity as "regional," by default. By approaching his subject in this manner, Varga helps us understand how every "regional" cinema begins its life in a sort of debt position, always working to break even. To break even in this scenario would mean to gain a degree of [End Page 124] autonomy and a level of support that is currently denied regional film artists; or, more precisely, these very qualities are actually set against each other, particularly so in neoliberalism, so that the artist is now given the choice of having autonomy but not support, or they can have support but not autonomy. The book's informed and spirited response to this context gives it an assertive, even aggressive, edge—captured in the title—making it a unique and important contribution to scholarship about film in Canada.
If the focus of the book was only to lament the dominance of Toronto it would quickly lose its charm. Instead, having introduced the conceptual problems of centrism and regionalism, Varga proceeds, in Chapter 1, to the high road of close readings and critical analysis—the bedrock of film studies—by looking at his favourite films: those of Bill MacGillivary and the magnum opus by the Brothers Jones and NIFCO, The Adventures of Faustus Bidgood. These are all in the art film tradition and Varga applauds the creative autonomy, freedom and innovation that characterises such work. Providing details from personal interviews with the filmmakers and extensive research and close readings, the chapter makes a compelling argument for considering the "ruins" of the art film as a refuge against the onslaught of entertainment films that conceptualize all places as space to be colonized. While Varga recognizes the difficulty of making regional art cinema...