Academic journal article CineAction

Charting the Course of the Pacific New Wave

Academic journal article CineAction

Charting the Course of the Pacific New Wave

Article excerpt

The first time that I heard about the Pacific New Waxe was at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1999. Then Canadian Images Programmer, Ken Anderlini, had been asked about this new west coast filmmaking movement ay Cori Howard of the National Post. With an unprecedented six BC fiction features in the Canadian Images program, it seemed possible that we were witnessing the beginnings of "something comparable to that earlier moment in Ontario when a lea, group of filmmakers focussed attention on Canadian cinema. (1) Anderlini proceeded to write a short article for the festival newsletter assessing whether or not there might be a "West Coast Nouvelle Vague." But, faced with a diverse group of films that includes Mort Ransen's glossy Touched (1999), Scott Smith's gritty rollercoaster (1999) and Ryan Bonder's magical DayDrift (1999), he concludes that the notion of a new wave "might be stretching it, but [that] these films do prove that BC is more that just a Hollywood back lot." (2) The only "clear connection" he cites is the films share "emotional intensity and integrity." (3) At the 2000 festival, the number of BC fiction features rose to eight, including five debuts. In the introductory essay for the Canadian Images section, the Pacific New Wave reference is re-deployed with the suggestion that the films "honestly explore our West Coast culture." (4)

Meanwhile, in a Georgia Straight cover story, local film critic Ken Eisner notes that four of the debut features--Protection (2000), Middlemen (2000), We All Fall Down (1999) and No More Monkeys Jumpin' on the Bed (2000)--share "an uncommon grit, not to mention rampant dysfunction and drug use ... all in a doggedly naturalistic style and with remarkably similar settings." (5) Linking the films to Canada's "longstanding documentary tradition," Eisner describes the new wave in terms of "new realism" and explains that each of these first-timers "indicated that more money and market concerns wouldn't have too much bearing on their styles, which all aim, with varying techniques, for the purity of experience." (6) Finally, the term Pacific New Wave gained headline status in the fall of 2001 with Mark Peranson's Globe and Mail feature on Bruce Sweeney's Last Wedding (2001). According to Peranson, the inclusion of five BC films in the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival along with the selection of Last Wedding "as the first BC film ever to open this trendsetting event" suggests that the talk of a west coast new wave may in fact have "some basis in reality." (7) In particular, he argues that "to match the flowering of filmmakers in Ontario in the 1980's ... A-list" (8) directors like Sweeney will begin to emerge from the West. So, if the moment is indeed taking root, perhaps it is a good time to ask what Pacific New Wave means. This term has tended to be applied by those who, despite their links to the BC film community, are relative outsiders, while within the community, the label has been greeted with great skepticism.

The first reference to a Pacific New Wave can be found in Cori Howard's article "The Irony of the Anti-blockbuster," which appeared in the August 7, 1999 issue of the National Post. Howard's discussion focuses on Canada's first two Dogme films: Set in an abandoned Vancouver shipyard, Marc Retailleau's feature debut Noroc ("good luck") is a "largely autobiographical tale about a Romanian immigrant's struggle to survive in Canada," while Carl Bessai's Johnny follows a group of "disaffected squeegee kids" living on the streets of Toronto. (9) Both films attempt to conform to the ten tenets of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg's 1995 Dogme Vow of Chastity with varying degrees of success. Noroc's co-producer and cinematographer James Tocher explains that "If you follow the rules and don't see the joke, you've missed the point. We didn't feel the rules were meant to be taken literally." (10) Re-dubbing it as the "vow of fertility," Tocher states that "the Dogme philosophy helps remind filmmakers what's necessary and unnecessary. …

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