Term Paper: Canada's Film Industry

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Canada's Film Industry

When talking about movies, most people's mental representation consist of the sign from the Hollywood Hills, the well-known Hollywood's Walk of Fame or the glamorous Oscar ceremony which allows them to recognize their favorite actors or actresses. But how many realize that the roots of celebrities who are given the red-carpet treatment aren't exclusively American? For instance, how many cinephiles who have been touched by the story of Titanic, the renowned film that won 11 Oscars in 1998, know that its director James Cameron has Canadian origins? Furthermore, how many moviegoers have found out that contemporary cineplexes representing one of their favorite leisure destinations were invented by a Canadian? Certainly, the percentage of those people holding such information is very low as the world's "one and only" movie fortress is considered to be the U.S.A. Consequently, Canada seems to be absent from the film industry map existing in people's perception. Still, despite not being very well-known, Canada's contribution to the world's cinematography exists and history proves it.

A brief history of the Canadian film industry

The first Canadian filmmaker was James Freer, a farmer from Monitoba, who produced documentaries depicting life in the prairies. These were used as a tool for stimulating emigration to Canada and were exhibited in the U.K., from 1898 to 1899, by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Seeing the tremendous success that these movies achieved, the CPR organized a second tour in 1902 and hired a British company to produce Living Canada, a series of 35 films plus a 15-minute drama - Haiwatha, the Messiah of the Ojilway (1903), the first of its type in Canada. In 1910, CPR resorted to the Edison Company for the production of 13 story films which were intended to sell indigenous products abroad. The project was financed from autochthon funds, but it was drawn up by foreign professionals. This was one of the proofs probating Canada's distrust of its own potential which placed the national film industry in a shadow that the country is still fighting to escape from. Thus, while American companies began to use Canadian landscapes as film settings, the hosts had to settle for newsreels and travelogues as the only remaining niche which allowed their access to cinematography. 1912 was a prolific year because several film companies in Canada dedicated their time and financial resources to producing fiction and factual films. Some of that period's most representative outcomes were: Evangeline (1913) - the first Canadian feature, based on one of Longfellow's poems, made by the Canadian Bioscope Company from Halifax; The Battle of the Long Sault (1913), produced by the British American Film Company of Montreal; the comedies and adventure films from 1914 to 1915 signed by the Conness Till Film Company, in Toronto; and last but not least, The War Pigeon (1914) focusing on the 1812 war drama, produced by the All Red Feature Company.

Yet, the decline of the Canadian film industry seemed to reach its end after World War I when being driven by strong nationalist feelings; native professionals boosted the indigenous production. Such were the cases of George Brownridge who produced three admirable features, Ernest Ouimet whose name is bound to the world's first luxury movie theater that was established in Montreal in 1907, Blaine Irish - the producer of two short series and a feature named Satan's Paradise (1922). But the most successful filmmaker who brought Canada in the limelight was Ernest Shipman, the author of Back to God's Country, a movie made in Calgary in 1919 which was distributed worldwide and which returned a profit three times higher than the costs it implied. Furthermore, Shipman was the one who brought dynamism and authenticity to national films by opting in favor of location and not studio filming. Unfortunately, this optimistic trend which appeared to reinvigorate home industry suddenly faded. Thus, in comparison with 1922 which took pride in 9 features, 1923 limited its activity to only two features. Moreover, the American octopus stretched its tentacles over the distribution and exhibition of movies, a thing which seriously hindered Canadian films from being shown on domestic screens. The U.S. monopoly wasn't a phenomenon exclusively affecting its northern neighbor. It also tried to make European industries kneel down but these proved to be a very self-determined counterpart who flexed its muscles and opposed America's conquest dream through both controlling ownership over distribution and stimulating national initiatives. Unlike Europeans, Canadians ceased to U.S. corporations, but tried to maintain their ego or what was left of it by making "quota quickies" for the British market. The latter bought these productions due to the requirements imposed by the British law which established that a certain number of Commonwealth films must be shown. But this last hope of promoting 'home-baked' products disappeared in 1938 when the stipulation mentioned above was withdrawn as a punishment for the American interference, tolerated by the Canadian government. The only memorable feature from that period that archives remind of was The Viking (1930-1931), a movie describing the lives of seal hunters from Newsfoundland. The 1930s have also remained in the collective memory for another achievement - the first 'talkie' color film: Talbot of Canada, made in 1938. Still, the 1930s brought a sharp decline only in the beginning because, before reaching their end, new promising opportunities emerged in the form of new film companies, Odeon theaters, or John Grierson's report which led to the creation of the National Film Board (NFB), an institution providing trainings to Canadian filmmakers. Despite this apparent upward tendency, domestic productions continued to be poor.

The 1940s were especially kept in mind for one English-Canadian feature film - Bush Pilot (1946) and for the first 'talkie' in French - A la Croisee des Chemins (1943).

The 1950s lifted the barrier a little bit and managed to display five feature films. Two of these (A dangerous Age - 1957, A Cool Sound from Hell - 1959) were produced by a young Canadian, Sydney Furie, whose vision and talent won numerous international adherents. But as Canada was one of the countries which knew best how to play down the importance of its national values, it neglected Furie's potential and determined him to immigrate to Great Britain in 1960, an adoptive country which, unlike its native one, greeted him with open arms.

The 1960s made the art of the moving picture more accessible to Canadian students due to the 16mm camera which penetrated the market. This technical progress resulted in several low budget films which were not overlooked either because of the controversial sex scenes like those in Larry Kent's movie - Bitter Ash (1963), or because of the futurist perspective that then student David Cronenberg approached in two of his movies. 1967 was considered to be a significant year as it was related to the foundation of Canadian Film Development Corporation (now Telefilm Canada) aimed at enhancing the production of feature films. Although it was expected to boost home market from the very beginning, CFDC started with modest budget movies which had low adherence to audience or critics.

In the 1970s, co-productions making use of foreign talents came into fashion. Two of the most successful movies that this trend resulted in were The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), and Lies My father Told Me (1975). Yet, the characteristic treat for that period was the lack of cultural identity, regardless of the two exceptions - Why Shoot the Teacher (1976) and Who Has Seen the Wind (1977) which were based on Canadian novels. But maybe the most important achievement which doesn't let us erase these years from the film industry's history is the opening of the 18-screen Cineplex in Eaton Centre, Toronto, an event which has been recorded even in the Guinness Book. Everything started with Nat Taylor's passion for movies and business. Being mesmerized by both the art of the motion picture and the vast sums of money that its selling could have brought, the Canadian bought the Elgin Theater from Ottawa in 1938 and divided it into two sections: the Little Elgin, dedicated to art movies, and the Big Elgin, focused on first-run features. Observing that this segmentation provided him with higher profits, he continued to add sections until he established a worldwide record in 1979 and invented the word cineplex to name its discovery.

The 1980s restored national pride through the high quality movie - The Grey Fox (1982), and the foundation of the Ontario Film Development Corporation in 1987 which began to take proper care of marketing Canadian films, a field which was thought to be Achilles heel at that time. The same period boasted encouraging initiatives of woman filmmakers like Anne Wheeler, especially known for the family drama Loyalties (1986) and Bye Blues (1989), or Patricia Razema, famous for her movie I've heard the mermaids singing (1987). Other filmmakers whose talent was fully unveiled were David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Peter Mettler, Jeremy Podeswa and so forth.

The 1990s relocated the Canadian film industry on the right… [END OF PREVIEW]

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