Academic journal article Afterimage

The View from Up There

Academic journal article Afterimage

The View from Up There

Article excerpt

Toronto international Film Festival

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

September 9-18, 1999

One of the highlights of the Toronto International Film Festival is the Perspective Canada program, which introduces new work by established and emerging Canadian talent and illuminates the achievements of Canada's film industry. This year's program, organized by Liz Czach and Helen DuToit, featured an impressive collection of nearly 60 features and shorts by well-known directors including Michel Brault, Atom Egoyan, Lea Pool and Patricia Rozema. These works collectively tackle subjects ranging from women's rights in nineteenth-century Great Britain to teen angst in contemporary Canada and just about everything in between.

What makes the Perspective program so interesting is that it reveals, in its spectrum of representations from across Canada, a great deal about both the culture and the industry that have produced the films. It is, of course, no secret that the products of Canada's entertainment industries have often been viewed, both at home and abroad, as inferior copies of those produced in the United States. This is due in no small part to the widespread practice of U.S.-based companies shooting grade-Z, no-budget claptrap in Canada to take advantage of lower production costs. The fact that many interesting Canadian films are often never identified or recognized as such, and thus are mistakenly classified as American, or at least not as Canadian, also plays a role in Canada's unappreciated status on the international market.

In recent years, filmmakers such as Egoyan, Rozema, Guy Maddin and Thom Fitzgerald have scored international success with films that duplicate the high production values of Hollywood movies yet exhibit a sensibility not often, if ever, encountered in American commercial film. These works examine the influence of external images on identity and, in so doing, point to the overpowering effect that U.S.-based imagery has on the Canadian imagination. It is especially interesting to note that three of the most fascinating films in this year's Perspective Canada program take what can only be seen as American themes and relocate them to specifically Canadian settings.

Jeremy Podeswa's The Five Senses (1999), which opened the series, tells the story of a group of people who profoundly influence each other's lives without realizing it. Each of the main characters suffers from some sort of sensory deprivation that prevents him or her from finding happiness: an ophthalmologist's impending deafness leads him to recognize the importance of sound in his life, for example; and a commercial cake baker obsessed with presentation realizes that she has not considered how her creations taste.

These lacks, losses and oversights open up narrative possibilities for the characters to learn about themselves and, in some cases, to find what they have been looking for. Some respond, others miss opportunities. These subplots unfold around the central story of the disappearance of a little girl in a city park. As the film shifts uneasily back and forth between actual locations and an artificial mediascape, Podeswa focuses his critical eye on how the "imagined community" created by the media in its coverage of the event veils the profound separation and alienation the characters feel. It also raises questions, however obliquely, about the influence of U.S. media culture on Canada by focusing on the transformation of the child's disappearance from a private occurrence to a full-blown media event, complete with round-the-clock live coverage. It is impossible not to be reminded of the frenzied media reportage that has become the mainstay of American television news coverage.

Like Podeswa's film, Jerry Ciccoritti's The Life Before This (1999) focuses on a group of characters brought together by tragic circumstances. Ciccoritti builds his existential study of a single night in the lives of seven people around another prevalent American theme: violence in the public sector. …

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