In keeping with avant-garde roots, Vancouver’s Cinematheque is host to an ambitious nation-wide project this year: Canada On Screen. It aims at familiarizing Canadians with the moving images “that have made a major contribution to the practice of cinema, and to the practice of Canadians speaking to themselves,” explains Executive and Artistic Director, Jim Sinclair.
The Cinematheque, along with TIFF, Library & Archives Canada and Cinémathèque québécoise have assembled a list of 150 quintessential Canadian films, most of which will be screened for free in 2017 as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
In talking to Sinclair, I learn that the process of selecting a mere 150 works was agonized over by committees of film critics, academics, and industry professionals. There are nine categories of works selected, from familiar genres like Feature Film and Documentary, to Commercials and Music Videos. The number of works in each category varies based on the significance of Canadian achievement in each category. Through the process, Sinclair assures that diversity was a consideration:
“When we were tweaking these lists, it was very important to make sure the regions were represented, that women were represented, that filmmakers of diverse ethnic backgrounds — including First Nations filmmakers — were represented.”
Canada 150, the impetus and funding backbone of Canada On Screen and other ambitious projects across the country, is the focus of some contention. Canada 150 celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Critics have argued that Canada 150, in fact, glorifies 150 years of colonization, and that it undermines reconciliation efforts with Indigenous peoples.
This controversy is one that Sinclair does not take lightly. While the topics of colonization and Indigenous perspectives are noticeably subdued in the selection of works for Canada On Screen, The Cinematheque will be adjusting their bi-monthly program to include a statement that acknowledges Vancouver screenings are taking place on the ancestral and unceded land of Coast Salish peoples.
The organizers of Canada On Screen, and Sinclair in particular, strive for Canada On Screen to become a “living project.” The intention is to add to the list, treating this year’s screenings and outreach as the launch of a larger initiative to preserve and disseminate influential older works.
“This project is not only about naming these films, but in many cases restoring and digitizing them,” explains Sinclair. “By digitizing them, they are made more accessible to Canadians … and more accessible to [cinemas] because they don’t have to ship 35 millimeter film cans across Canada.”
All Canada On Screen screenings are free to the public. As a companion, there will be an online catalogue featuring essays on each of the 150 works. Sinclair and The Cinematheque’s Operations and Programming Associate Shaun Inouye have each contributed five essays to the catalogue.
When asked how many of the films The Cinematheque will screen in 2017, Sinclair is optimistic: “We’re trying to screen as many of the 150 works as is practical for us to screen in the cinema. We can’t screen 19 seasons of The Beachcombers … but we are doing [all] Anne of Green Gables because it’s only five or six hours long … We will try to keep it interesting.”
At the moment, The Cinematheque is hosting 2-3 screenings of Canada On Screen each month, each one including at least two works off the list. They intend to program a full month of Canada On Screen in July.
“It can be difficult to get Canadians out to [watch] Canadian film,” laments Sinclair. “It is always challenging to get bums in seats to see Canadian films.”
If January’s attendance for Canada On Screen is any indication, getting bums in seats won’t be a problem.
Pick up a copy of The Cinematheque’s bi-monthly program at most locations where Discorders are also distributed, or check thecinematheque.ca for a full program schedule. To see a complete list of Canada On Screen selections, visit tiff.net/canadaonscreen.