Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Canada Makes Movies, Whatever That Means

Yes, Canada does make movies. Some aren’t even co-produced with other nations, if you can believe it. The unfortunate truth is that even though we have some really great films, they rarely get seen. This is the sad result of many issues, the least of which is not the lack of funding for marketing. While I intend to dedicate this blog to discussing Canadian films and the Canadian film industry, I should preface this by acknowledging how problematic the concept of “national cinema” is. 

In “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema”, Andrew Higson goes so far as to question the usefulness of the term “national cinema” itself. He greatly considers the idea that the modern nation is an imagined community, seeking to reconsider the traditional idea of ‘national’ as self-contained, and to examine the argument that the ‘national cinema’ can be vital at the level of state policy. Higson points to the main problems of ‘national cinema’ as its tendency to fetishize, to create borders, and to obscure cultural diversity within a nation. These are of course the same problems one encounters when attempting to define ‘national identity’. Thus, to challenge the concept of national cinema, we must first challenge the idea of nation. In doing so, Higson (among many other scholars outside of film studies such as Engin F. Isin, and Bryan S. Turner) finds that nation is “first forged and then maintained as a bounded public sphere”. Noteworthy here is the emphasis on the public sphere because it suggests nation has little to no bearing at the level of the individual and is subsequently only a geo-political tool. However, what it attempts to provide to the individual is a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this makes it an exclusionary process that encourages dichotomous thinking. It imagines borders as uncrossable and ‘national identity’ as strictly geographical, leaving little room to consider the heterogeneity of a multicultural society. 

Until recently, there has been an assumption that to have a ‘national cinema’, there must first be an established national identity. But this is clearly too vague a term to be anything more than imagined. Therefore, creating a national cinema around it is less than ideal and, as Higson argues, limiting, as it can hardly take into account all of the complexities that come with the idea of ‘nation’. A ‘critical’ national cinema may be worth considering as an ideal model, however it does encourage further dichotomous thinking whereby films themselves have to be categorized as properly belonging to a nation, or not. In other words, only films that reiterate the nation’s idea of self can be worthy, which of course begs the question of whose perspective is valid. I propose that 'national cinema' might be better described as ‘the world according to a particular nation, taking into account its relationship to other nations and its peoples heritage(s)’. This may still unintentionally form a concept of national identity to which the films are linked, but it would hopefully be more open-minded than an idealized unifying concept. 

Because of the complexities involved, it does seem worthwhile to be less dependent on the term, both in popular culture (media), and in film studies. This is especially the case as the world moves quickly into modern globalization, which tends to favor the concepts like ‘global citizenship’ and transnationalism. However, I am drawn to the idea of considering Canadian cinema here because, simply put, I see it as a way to explore films that are not so often explored. Although it is somewhat irrational, I do feel connected to these films as I watch them, even if it is only for their familiar landscapes. So, I hope this blog will inspire some people out there to pick Canadian pictures once in a while.

Still from The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan 1997)