Docs to Watch on Canadian Film Day
By Pat Mullen
In honour of National Canadian Film Day, POV wants to remind readers to celebrate Canada’s national art form. Great Canadian docs are screening coast to coast as part of the NCFD festivities, including Stories We Tell, Hurt, Hadwin’s Judgement and 88:88, just to name a few. Check out the NCFD events listings page for the full slate of films.
Canucks looking to discover Canadian films—and, more importantly, celebrate Canadian films for their artistic merits, rather than their mere national origin—can enjoy a wealth of good docs from the comfort of their own homes. Here are a few recommendations from POV curators to help showcase documentary as the Maple Leaf’s national art form on Canadian Film Day.
Perhaps Churchill’s Island is an obvious choice, but no immersion in Canadian documentary is complete without a mention of this film. Not only is Churchill’s Island the first doc ever to win an Oscar and the first film to net a little golden man for the NFB, this film endures as a template for the classical mode of documentary filmmaking that surpasses reportage with elevated craftsmanship and artistry.
The Romance of Transportation in Canada
The recently departed Canadian film pioneer Colin Low deserves a mention today and his contribution to this canon of great Canuck cinema should appear on any NCFD playlist. The humorous short satire The Romance of Transportation in Canada is one of Low’s best films and a playful warm-up to POV’s next selection. Read more on the work and career of Colin Low here.
Begone Dull Care
Here’s a fun activity: debate with fellow NCFDers whether Evelyn Lambart and Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care is a documentary. This jazzy experimental film animates the music of Oscar Peterson, so it’s an archival doc in a sense as it draws upon found material and meditates upon the subject through the art form. Discussion point: maybe it’s a hybrid film?
Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia
POV readers might have seen Black Mother/Black Daughter as the short of the week during Black History Month, and this follow-up effort from director Sylvia Hamilton is another essential doc about the untold stories of black Canadians. Canadian film fans who recently saw the Stephan James drama Across the Line, which depicts racial tensions in small town Nova Scotia, will appreciate this account of youth fighting for social change. Why not do a Canadian Film Day double bill with a doc and a drama?
Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak
The title might not ring of political correctness, but this Oscar-nominated 1963 film is a wonderful portrait of Canadian arts and culture. Director John Feeney explores the creative process for one Inuit artist as stories pass on through generations thanks to drawings and sculptures. The journey of the artwork shows a culture at a crossroads, just as POV’s next pick offers a contemporary story of Canada’s First Nations communities. Bonus point for NCFD players: which work of art by Kenojuak was reproduced on a Canada Post stamp in 1970?
The People of Kattawapiskak River
Any argument for the documentary as Canada’s national art form requires considerable weight for the work of Alanis Obomsawin. Obomsawin, one of Canada’s foremost filmmakers of any kind, tackles urgent subjects in First Nations communities with a signature cocktail of passion and fury. Her camera sees the stories that often fail to make the headlines and add background and context for topics that new outlets neglect. Her 2012 mid-length feature The People of Kattawapiskak River, for example, tells a fuller and more inclusive narrative of the Idle No More movement, but one could easily choose any of her films at random and it would be a worthy example of Canadian film at its best.
Just As I Remember
Finally, if veterans such as Alanis Obomsawin embody the legacy of Canadian documentary, Canadian Film Day celebrations need to look to the future of the Maple Leaf’s national art form. Several up-and-comers hold much promise for Canadian documentary, and one of the recent favourites within the POV family is Andrew Moir’s Just as I Remember, which shares a very personal story about the filmmaker’s experience growing up as his father slips away—physically—to ALS. (Read more about Just as I Remember in the POV feature on short docs at Hot Docs 2013.) The doc isn’t available on open streaming (as is the case for most recent shorts), but POV readers may support the film on iTunes in a package of Hot Docs selections that includes Gun Porn, Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam (profiled with Just as I Remember in Sweet, Sour, and Tangy), You Won’t Regret that Tattoo, and Controversies. Expect to see more films from these directors on future National Canadian Film Day posts!