Commentary: Quick. Name a Canadian movie. Bet you can’t…and that really is a tragedy

Commentary: Quick. Name a Canadian movie. Bet you can’t...and that really is a tragedy
File photo/CHEK
A production set on Vancouver Island, seen in this file photo.

I’m not sure if you ever saw the Jackie Chan movie Rumble In The Bronx. It’s a pretty lousy movie, with car chases and street fights and bad dialogue. But it is a metaphor for the Canadian film industry – at least here in British Columbia.

We are a stand-in. We make cheap movies for America, and we pretend to be somewhere else.

Vancouver was a stand-in for the Bronx in the 1995 Jackie Chan movie, and much of the film was shot in the grungier, edgier parts of Vancouver. It stood in very well. Even people living in New York might have been fooled.

Until the final scenes, that is, which featured an exciting boat chase on an unidentified body of water. I guess it was supposed to stand in for the Hudson. The filmmakers shot the scenes in English Bay and gave up all pretense of being in or near the Bronx. The North Shore mountains were majestic in almost every shot and offered filmgoers a picture-postcard view of the Bronx that must have mystified many.

I imagine skiers started showing up at LaGuardia airport the following January, asking where those majestic Bronx mountains could be accessed.

Nowadays filmmakers have become much more sophisticated with CGI (computer-generated imagery) and Vancouver and its mountains can be easily airbrushed out. We can be Anywhere USA, which I find somewhat embarrassing. As a character in How I Met My Mother once said, “You’re Canadian? How sad to be a nearly-American.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that Hollywood North, and a low Canadian dollar, means we bring in billions of dollars every year and thousands of jobs are created in the movie industry, here on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland. My son’s partner has worked in the industry for many years on a successful American TV series. And these jobs are creative, well-paid and highly-valued.

We get a kick out of telling friends in other countries that The X Files or Deadpool or Muppet Christmas Carol or Sonic The Hedgehog or some of The Revenant were filmed in British Columbia. We are still small-town enough to get excited when Jim Carrey comes to Ladysmith or Robert Redford films in downtown Vancouver.

But as the film industry sets to resume – cautiously – in British Columbia under some firm COVID restrictions (more scenes will be shot outside, so expect more airbrushing) it would be heartening if we could promote the production of more world-class Canadian productions –  where Canada and British Columbia and Vancouver Island play themselves, rather than Seattle or even The Bronx.

We make very good small movies. Film festival movies. And that’s a good thing. But while we produce world-class literature and art and music, when it comes to movies we seem to be content to be second-best. Understandable, perhaps, given the proximity of the United States, but we can and should do much better.

Now we have the experience to do so. I remember speaking to a Canadian film director two decades ago about the Canadian film industry. He told me that, because of the amazing experience Canadians were getting on film sets in British Columbia, within a decade we would see Canadian films vying to be the best in the world.

It hasn’t happened. Not to that extent. Certainly, getting the right funding is critical, and the federal government and provincial government have worked hard not only to attract foreign filmmakers but also to fund a home-grown industry.

I sometimes do a test. I ask someone to name a famous Canadian movie. Off the top of their heads they usually come up with Mon Oncle Antoine or Jesus of Montreal or Kamouraska or, if they’re really desperate, Men With Brooms.

Victoria’s Atom Egoyan has made some of the most successful films in Canadian history – such as the Sweet Hereafter and Exotica, but they were made in the 1990s.

Now, with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the appetite for all cinema is bigger than ever. We can tell our stories to a world audience, rather than at film festivals or in boutique cinemas. Worthy, yes.

Here’s the thing though. Canadian audiences have to start watching Canadian films too. And supporting our film industry. There are some jewels out there, and they’re our story, and they deserve to be seen. Australian cinema does well in Australia. French cinema is huge in France. British cinema is huge in Britain and around the world.

So post-COVID, it would be nice if we spent more time embracing local – not just food and merchandise, but art too. We don’t always need to cross that border to get our kicks.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

Would you like to write for CHEK’s commentary section, Voices? Go here to learn how. 


Ian HaysomIan Haysom

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!