Friend Tim Dinsdale, brothers Dwight and Michael Kearns (Alma Kearns)
You Can't Go Home Again: But you can make a film about growing up in 1950s Brandon.
Street hockey, kick-the-can, chasing the milk truck--debut filmmaker Michael Kearns conjures up the kind of childhood that now seems lost. Quiet, composed and deliberately simple, Four Forty Four is a memoir of a time and a place and a house, Number 444, 21st Street, Kearn's family home in Brandon where he lived until age 10.
Kearns grew up in Manitoba but has been based in Britain since the 1970s, so this is really what could be called a memory landscape. Neighbours and playmates and odd little incidents are conjured up with remarkable detail. (I bet Kearns remembers his childhood telephone numbers and the name of his second grade teacher. He has that kind of mind.)
At the same time, the memories are clearly selective, an exiled prairie boy's idyllic recollections of long summer evenings, playing in the streets until mothers called kids in at dusk, and street hockey in the winter, with a puck made out of an old stuffed sock and chunks of ice for goalposts. In his unhurried voiceover narrative, Kearns also relates the weird things kids get up to when left to themselves-- tying wieners to strings and lowering them through the wrought-iron heating grate into the heating system to cook, for example.
Kearns talks about the blizzards that turn parked cars into white humps and the swift little streams that flow along street gutters during the spring melt. To prairie viewers, there will be an immediate, almost physical connection to this blend of archival material, family pics and contemporary footage of Brandon's flat, broad, uncrowded streets. If Kearns ever shows the film in Britain, I imagine this would all seem unbelievably exotic.
Sadly, I think Canadian kids today would also find it unfamiliar territory. This a pre-Facebook, pre-Wii boyhood, with five-year-olds pushed out the door for fresh air and trailing after their older sibs, and gangs of neighbourhood kids getting into what now seems like pretty innocent trouble.
Clocking in at 40 minutes, Four Forty Four is positioned uncertainly between short and feature. There's a lot of swell material but not really enough narrative oomph to justify the length. And Kearns sometimes tries too hard to be folksy. He says "reckon" a lot. (Does anybody really say reckon these days? I reckon not.)
Still, this modest film is an effective aide- mémoire: Lately I've been thinking about marathon jump-rope games at Oakenwald Elementary School....
Alison Gillmor, CBC reviewer
This content is provided by Alison Gillmor. The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content.