From 'Goon' to 'Green Gables,' these are the Canadian films that influenced a generation
We asked 20 up-and-coming filmmakers: what homegrown film inspired your work?
The 2017 Canadian Film Fest is underway in Toronto, exclusively showcasing homegrown filmmaking. The five-day festival culminates this weekend with, among other things, a showcase of Canadian short films. So, in the spirit of the festival's mission, CBC Arts decided to ask all of the short filmmakers about the Canadian film that stands out as a major influence on their own work. Here's what they had to say...
A.O.K. director Aris Athanasopoulos
Sleeping Giant follows three boys over a summer in Northern Ontario taking their first steps into adolescence. When I saw it for the first time, I felt like I relived puberty. It was an honest and exciting portrayal of the cruelty, anxiety, love and loyalty that exists in those relationships, and I left the cinema buzzing. I'm inspired to depict dynamic relationships that pack the same kind of visceral punch with my own films.
The Bakebook director Suri Parmar
Bar none, my favourite Canadian film is Michael Dowse's It's All Gone Pete Tong, which is about a superstar DJ who loses his hearing. Visually, it's a departure from Dowse's other work; it really captures the lazy, halcyon feel of the early 2000's Euro party scene. While I lean towards certain genres, I personally don't have a brand or style. My M.O. is to tell stories how they should be told. As you develop a film, it takes on a life of its own...you do it a disservice by making it mirror your predilections and sensibilities. In my mind, It's All Gone Pete Tong perfectly embodies this mindset.
Comeback directors Hannah Anderson & Aidan Shipley
Shipley: Monsieur Lazhar stands out as a film that has heavily influenced me. The first time I watched it, I was struck by the subtlety and nuance of the acting. It led me to spend quite a bit of time looking up interviews with the director, Philippe Falardeau, to try to learn more about how he worked with the actors — and specifically the kids, who delivered such beautiful performances. I also loved how the camera moved and the patience with which the film was cut. There is such beautiful naturalism and empathy in this film, which I hope to be able emulate in my own work.
Anderson: My main influence for inspiration have been Canadian filmmakers I've either worked with or admired from a distance. I came across Joe Cobden's short Slow Dance a few years ago when I was scouring BravoFact for new little gems. It was one of the most moving love stories I've seen. Slater Jewell-Kemker's short Daisy allows us to reflect on loss intertwined with memory, and Still paints a sinister picture of a woman desperate for love in an abusive relationship. Ben Petrie's Her Friend Adam starring Grace Glowicki is so simple, tantalizing and quirky. Steven McCarthy's darkly sexy O Negative is awe-striking. Andrew Cividino's Sleeping Giant short [which he made before the feature] is candidly funny, and captures the "slice of life" element so beautifully.
Farm Is a Four Letter Word director Ryan Couldrey
Ginger Snaps. If you're as tired as I am of seeing stories specifically told for straight cisgender men, then you should sink your teeth into Karen Walton and John Fawcett's coming-of-age werewolf tale from 2000. It's essential feminist horror that stands high up with the likes of The Descent and Julia Ducournau's Raw, and it should be legally required viewing for every teenage boy. Of herself, Ginger said it best: "I'm a goddamn force of nature."
Grocery Store Action Movie director Matthew Campbell
Goon. It was a laugh-out-loud Canadian comedy that looked fantastic, had great actors and, while very Canadian, managed to feel like a bigger movie than it was with its worldwide appeal to any fan of hockey, not just Canadians. Making Canadian films that aren't only for Canadians is a dream of mine, and while Grocery Store Action Movie is a film set in Vancouver, the protagonist's problems are relatable to anyone who's ever wanted to impress people at a dinner party.
The Honey Badger director KB Kutz
Actually, I'd say the biggest Canadian influence to my own work, especially this project in particular, was James Cameron and his work on Avatar. It was inspiring because the film took almost 10 years to make and I believe that was a true testament to tenacity. Daniel Hayes and I had been working together to make this project for a while. We encountered quite the amount of obstacles and the opportunity hadn't presented itself. However, we were both persistent and believed in one another, and here we are today.
Love in the Age of Like director Theodore Bezaire
I can remember seeing Michael Dowse's film Fubar and it having an impact on me. As a young filmmaker, this was the first time a contemporary Canadian film felt like it was made for me. For most of the film we're watching a hilarious mockumentary, then there's a seamless transition to something a little more serious — all the while still feeling like the same movie. Letting us in and getting to know the characters on a deeper level helps make the story that much more funny and fulfilling. The idea that a comedy doesn't have to be devoid of emotional depth stuck with me, and it's something I strive for in my own films.
Magic Mushrooms director Sean Wainsteim
One of the most influential Canadian films for me has been Jean-Claude Lauzon's Leolo. Presented as a wry coming-of-age story, Leolo uses magic realism as a lens to explore childhood memories. The result is a visually engaging, impressionistic semi-autobiographic account that feels more real, honest and revealing than if it were told "naturally." In my work, I often incorporate fantasy or magic realism to reframe challenging or personal issues. Dropping the seriousness surrounding a topic in favour of something mysterious and visually (and conceptually) new invites an audience to let their guard down, laugh and have a great time while (subconsciously) reconsidering their approach to the familiar. For me, film is all about expanding viewpoints, hopefully in honest ways.
Milk director Winnifred Jong
Water, by Deepa Mehta, continues to be the Canadian film that stands out as an influence to my work. I was lucky enough to have been part of the making of this Oscar-nominated film. Through Water, I learned about authenticity and strength of voice. The narrative unfolds beautifully without feeling indulgent and untruthful. As I continue to grow in my work, I hope the characters cut close to a truth which resonates with audiences.
Parent, Teacher director Roman Tchjen
I don't know if there's one specific Canadian film that influences my work, but one that certainly comes to mind, especially in relation to Parent, Teacher, is Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar. School is obviously a significant part of a child's life, and that significance extends beyond academics. It's really a child's first experience of independence. Little boys and girls are thrust into an unfamiliar environment where, for the first time, they're able to exercise their own agency whilst, at the same time, gaining an extended family. Their classmates become their brothers and sisters. Their teachers become their surrogate parents. I think Monsieur Lazhar explores this relationship in an affecting and truthful way. And it shows the disconnect that can and often does happen between a child's immediate family and their school family.
Rainfall director Efehan Elbi
Saturday morning cartoons got me animating (so many of those made in Canada), but for Rainfall the coming-of-age stories resonated most. I tried a more whimsical style in high school and during OCAD, thanks in part to the NFB's playful animations, but found myself invariably drawn to lighting, flares and shadow. C.R.A.Z.Y. by Jean Marc Vallee was a revelation. John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps was a thrilling fiction, yet full of truth. I was also captured by the casual handheld feel of older film documentaries, like the NFB's astounding The Devil At Your Heels, and the heart and soft tragedy of those merged with Japanese animation — striking works that exist between animation and live action — like Millennium Actress by Satoshi Kon. And I fell for the worlds of Studio Ghibli, where our heroes tie back their hair, eat breakfast with gusto and stumble and fall. I loved the focus on characters and their poses, their gravity, regardless of the frame rate.
she came knocking director John Ainslie
Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, I unfortunately wasn't exposed to many Canadian films since they didn't play at the local movie theatres. So it's difficult to pinpoint a Canadian influence early on in my work. More recently, one of the Canadian films that impacted me most is definitely Denis Villeneuve's Incendies. It was beautifully photographed and was such a powerfully moving story that sticks in your head for years afterwards. It was also done on such a large and international scale, which has inspired me to think on a different and larger scale in my own work.
Sleeping In director Denis Dulude
I have to say that making film is all new to me. Sleeping In is my first "real" short film. That said, I'm pretty sure I'm influenced by the cinematography in a movie — probably due to the jobs I had in the past. For 15 years, as a ballet dancer, I worked very hard to achieve the aesthetic required. For the last 23 years, as a graphic and motion designer, it is the same appeal to aesthetics. So I think it goes without saying that the image is an important element in my selection criteria and in the influence that a film can have on me. In this line of thought, I would say It's Only The End of the World by Xavier Dolan, which I have seen lately. But there is also Incendies by Denis Villeneuve, if I can name another. Surprisingly, these two films are from the same director of photography!
Sunny Side Up director Caitlin Dosa
Time Out director Navin Ramaswaran
I'm inspired by a wide gamut of filmmakers and films, and it's an amalgamation of various aspects of these artists that influence my work. It's almost impossible for me to pick just one. David Cronenberg and Jean-Marc Vallée are a couple Canadian directors who I look up to. But speaking of Time Out specifically, I would say The F Word (a.k.a. What If) is definitely a strong influence. The loose, bittersweet romantic nature of Michael Dowse's film is definitely injected into my short.
Tuesday 10:08AM directors Thomas Pepper and Jane Tattersall
Pepper: For me, it is Xavier Dolan's first film I Killed My Mother. Although aesthetically our police investigation thriller has little in common with a French language coming-out story, its ethos is a powerful reminder to me as a young filmmaker, and to my co-writer/director approaching filmmaking later in life. Watching this film written and directed by a 19-year-old reminds me that good work can be created at any age, at any budget, with any means — so long as the willingness and the drive to create is there. Our film, which was self-financed and strung together with favours and friends, aspires to that mantra, so that I hope anyone who sees the film can also be inspired to make their own work and say what they want to say.
Tattersall: I'm drawn to stories and characters with moral complexity, that show both sides and illustrate that choices are often difficult — that a search for truth may just lead to confusion. But I also like to be entertained, to be drawn in, and I love thrillers. So in that vein, I would cite as influential A History of Violence (thriller, specific world), Cairo Time (moral choices, specific world), Amal (made on a shoestring without official endorsement, specific world). Of course our film is just 13 minutes long, but we tried to create a compelling story, in a specific world, with moral choices made by three different characters.
Ways To Water director Kit Weyman
Welcome Stranger director Brit Kewin
What we really wanted to accomplish in Welcome Stranger was to take a familiar theme and apply an original concept to it. Vincenzo Natali's Splice served as an influence for us because it was just that. On the outset Splice was a movie about cloning. But in reality, it was a movie that explored themes that pushed far past the sci-fi genre that housed it: gender socialization, family dynamics and emerging sexuality, amongst others. We felt at the time that we watched it that touching upon heady topics within a larger story about cloning was far more creative and interesting than just simply running headlong with any one of them. Welcome Stranger is about heartbreak, but it's also about an alien stuck on earth. We were looking for a fun way to package a universal truth: that emotional pain is an invisible wound that we carry. We hope that we accomplished it to some degree but one thing that we know for sure is that to even attempt such a thing would be impossible without having films like Splice to draw upon.
(These conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Canadian Film Fest. Until March 25. Scotiabank Theatre, Toronto. www.canfilmfest.ca