Kevan Funk on avoiding hockey clichés in Hello Destroyer, state of Cancon film

Ahead of the release of Jay Baruchel's Goon hockey-comedy sequel next week comes a very different kind of Canadian movie featuring the puck world: Kevan Funk's Hello Destroyer.

Drama starring Jared Abrahamson is nominated for 4 Canadian Screen Awards

Writer/director Kevan Funk on avoiding cultural cliches in the making of hockey drama Hello Destroyer, which is up for 4 Canadian Screen Awards on Sunday 2:04

​Ahead of the release of Jay Baruchel's Goon hockey-comedy sequel next week comes a very different kind of Canadian movie featuring the puck world: Kevan Funk's Hello Destroyer.

In theatres in Toronto and Ottawa on Friday, the drama stars Jared Abrahamson as a young Canadian junior hockey player who falls into a dark space in his life when he critically injures a rival on the ice and becomes ostracized in the community.

The film, which is up for four Canadian Screen Awards on Sunday, is a meditative and quiet reflection on institutional and systemic violence in our culture.

"The hockey part is like a red herring or a misnomer," says Funk, the film's writer and director. "The only reason it's about hockey is that I needed a big cultural institution at the centre of this film.

"If I set it in the U.S., it would probably be the military. But I did want to make a film that was aggressively and expressively Canadian."

Funk was born in Vancouver and grew up in Banff, Alta., where he didn't play hockey but was on basketball and rugby teams. He says a lot of the film's script stems from things he said or experienced.

"There's a universal attitude or atmosphere that exists in any of those settings, especially in terms of this idea of this sense of discovering masculinity, and I also think what is really a lot about the fragility of masculinity in those circumstances," he says.

Hello Destroyer stars Jared Abrahamson as a young Canadian junior hockey player who falls into a dark space in his life when he critically injures a rival on the ice and becomes ostracized in the community. (Tabula Dada & Type One)

"Because I think so much of this is an act and a front.... which I think is based on a lot of fear of not being accepted. And there's a tremendous amount of over-compensation as a result."

Funk wanted to represent hockey in a realistic way and avoid any stereotypical Canadian hockey-movie tropes and clichés. But he also wanted to make it identifiably Canadian, as he feels strongly about reflecting Canada's true culture and identity onscreen.

Debating the state of CanCon film

Funk recently engaged in a public debate about Canadian film with Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Funk sent an email to Bailey (which TIFF has published with permission on its website) in response to an editorial piece that ran in the Globe and Mail.

In the op-ed, Bailey urged homegrown filmmakers to focus more on telling true stories, like those of Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women.

Funk responded that he agrees Canadian filmmakers "need to be much more bold in terms of the films that we are producing," but added, "the institutional and corporate conditions that exist in this country very much shape the films that get made."

Writer/director Kevan Funk wanted to tell a story revolving around hockey, being one of Canada's biggest cultural institutions, without falling into the clichés that might come with it. (CBC)

His letter mentions Goon and several other Canadian films.

"I can speak from experience, at length, about the radical disinterest that Canadian distributors and broadcasters generally have for the type of films that you are appealing to filmmakers to make," he wrote to Bailey.

Funk says he wrote the email because he "had a very visceral reaction reading his op-ed." With his film out, he's using the platform to continue the conversation, noting "there's still so much more to talk about."

"I also think that just another middle-class white guy is not the voice that needs to necessarily be leading this charge either," says Funk.

"That's where I would happily step aside and would want to invite more voices to the table."

'When you go deep into a character, sometimes it can linger a little bit after they call cut,' Hello Destroyer lead Jared Abrahamson told CBC News. (CBC)

Think foreign film, not Hollywood-light

Funk says he ultimately feels strongly that "we need to stop pretending that we're some sort of proxy to Hollywood in English Canada and start thinking of our films as foreign films."

"Quebec does that already because they have the language element and I think it serves them well, but there's a reason that countries like Australia and England have much healthier, defined film culture and industries," says Funk.

"I think it's that they have enough separation from the U.S. to treat their films as foreign films and to treat their cinema as having a national identity."

Hello Destroyer has additional upcoming screenings in several cities as part of the Canada's Top Ten Festival.