Review: ‘Brand Canada’

New series of CBC Short Docs

3 mins read

It’s the Canadian sesquicentennial, a time when this country can engage in celebrations, critiques and a vast array of looks at what has happened here over the past 150 years. CBC must have been pleased when Big Cedar Films’ producer-director Geoff Morrison suggested that his company make a ten-part series about Canada’s “brand” and how it’s perceived nationally and internationally.

The results, which range in length from slightly over a minute to slightly under six minutes, will be available from Canada’s national broadcaster in multiple ways, including online, after a launch on May 15. Like all anthology series including Morrison’s Genie and Gemini award-winning National Parks Project, some films are much more successful than others.

Perhaps the best is Rant and Rave, a laugh-out-loud account of how Geoff Hunt, a creative ad director came up with the Molson Canadian rant about what it’s like to be from Canada after working for three years in the States. This skillfully edited doc includes footage of “Joe Canada” yelling into his microphone about the greatness of our Beaver, landscape and flag. In 2000, at a time when Canada’s identity was less strong than it is now, “The Rant” entered the mainstream—and Molson’s beer sales soared.

Another winner is Origin Story, directed by Ryan Noth, which shows how the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company (CPR) created the first vision of Canada as a nation. Based on Creating a Brand, Building a Nation by Marc H. Choko, who also narrates the short, the doc celebrates William van Horne, CPR’s first creative director and the William Notman Photography Studio, which created the image of Canada as a splendid wilderness with beautiful lakes, huge mountains, wild game including bear and fishing—and amazing hotels. It’s the image that persists to this day, due to the posters and ads from CPR that lasted from the late 19th century to 1972.

Also impressive is Canada the Good?, a doc directed by Tess Girard, which explores the Good Country Index, a measurement created by this clever short’s narrator Simon Anholt. Using stereotypical images—the maple leaf, mountains, trees, hockey players—-and rendering them as graphics placed against almost abstract backdrops, Anholt offers his conclusion that people around the world want their countries to be perceived as good—and that everyone wants to befriend a Canadian.

Brand Canada is a clever, thoughtful series, well worth seeing.

Watch Brand Canada here on CBC beginning May 15.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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