CATEGORIES Movie NewsRecently it was announced that Canadian-born actors Ryan Gosling and Ellen Page are both moving behind the camera to direct first features. Impressive stuff, given Hollywood veteran Dustin Hoffman has only just released his first feature as full director!
And it got me thinking...so buckle up, it'll be a twisty ride (trust me, it'll make sense in the end).
In the American TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the town was situated over a portal of supernatural power dubbed The Hellmouth. In one episode, one of the heroes, frustrated with life's disappointments, announces it's time he got the Hellmouth working for him.
I always liked that as a kind of metaphor. Instead of fighting the system, figure out how you can work the system in your favour (not that, y'know, I'm advocating colluding with hell demons).
Canadian film and TV producers struggle to carve out a niche in the market place -- domestically and globally -- while competing with the well-oiled machine that is Hollywood, which regularly spends more on promotion than many Canadian movies spend on the entire film.
When debates about Canadian pop culture arise (and that portentous phrase, 'cultural sovereignty') often the counter argument is, "there's nothing wrong with the status quo". Canadians, usually to the right of the political spectrum, often argue that if Canadian stories are worth telling, Hollywood will tell them.
At the same time, Americans -- for mercenary more than ideological reasons -- equally insist they can look after us. I once saw an interview with an American TV executive who cited an episode of a Star Trek spin-off written by a Canadian as being an example of a 'Canadian' episode. His implication? Don't worry -- we're looking after you. And Hollywood is a pop cultural Mecca, a glam equivalent of Ellis Island.
LOOK: Hot Canadian Celebrities Story continues after slideshow
But despite the occasional episode of Star Trek written by a Canadian, in the five series totalling more than 600 hours I don't think there was ever a Canadian character or even a Canadian reference. Well, other than one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where a character thinks Comdr. Riker is Canadian...except it turned out he wasn't.
Where this becomes fascinating is, of course, that the paragon of space faring heroism, Captain Kirk, was played by Canadian William Shatner. Hardcore Trekkie's know that Genevieve Bujold was originally tagged to headline Star Trek: Voyager...but I suspect her Quebecois accent would've been explained away as being European.
(As a side note, is there something about Canadians that just screams "heroic space captain" to Americans? Think Leslie Nielsen in Forbidden Planet, Lorne Greene in Battlestar Galactica or Nathan Fillion in Firefly -- all Canadians).
When non-Americans agitate for their own film industries, Hollywood (worried about losing control of the marketplace) responds soothingly, "There's no need for that...we'll look after you", yet when non-Americans agitate about not being better-represented in American films and TV, Hollywood tartly responds, "That's not our problem, we're an American industry."
I think many in Hollywood are sincere when they see Hollywood as a 'global' entertainment village. But opening your doors to an influx of foreign talent doesn't help those countries from a "cultural" perspective if none of that ends up on-screen. You can point to many American series with Canadian actors in central roles including Castle, Revenge, Grey's Anatomy, Vegas, Touch, The Walking Dead, Last Resort, Deception, How I Met Your Mother, Suits and many others. Yet in only How I Met Your Mother is their character actually supposed to be Canadian.
Which brings us back to my analogy of Buffy's Hellmouth. If Canadians are having trouble making their own things and the Americans (for all their protestations) aren't interested in doing it themselves...what about getting Hollywood to help Canadians make Canadian programs? In short, getting the Hellmouth to work for us.
For a long time in Canada, co-productions involved Canadians basically making things set in the U.S. with American actors. But more recently there's a new muscle being flexed, as Canadians are getting American networks to help make essentially Canadian programs like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue. Unobtrusively Canadian, perhaps, but nominally Canadian nonetheless.
And that brings us to my opening point about Ryan Gosling and Ellen Page.
Hollywood's had a few Canadian movers and shakers over the year, yet you rarely saw much 'Canadianness' creeping into their films. Yet when non-American filmmakers come to Hollywood, they often draw upon their roots. Christopher Nolan crams his Hollywood movies with British actors. New Zealand director Martin Campbell hired little known New Zealand actor, Taika Waititi, for a pivotal role in Green Lantern.
Canadians tend not to follow that trend. Is it because they are embarrassed by their roots? Or does it cheapen their accomplishments if they can't crow about their superiority to other Canadians. "I'm with the cool kids, now," they gush, "and you're not -- nyah, nyah!"
There's no moral or philosophical obligation upon a Canadian artist to acknowledge their Canadian roots. Not at all. Everyone must follow their own muse. James Cameron's films are often more American than those made by actual Americans!
Where it becomes a question is when you have Canadian actors and filmmakers (both domestically and in Hollywood) who will publicly lament the lack of a Canadian presence on screens...yet come up with a million excuses why their movie has to be set in the U.S., why their character has to be American. But the buck has to stop with the individual. That doesn't mean a Canadian working in Hollywood should cultivate a rep as an 'obnoxious' Canadian.
But when talking about culture and cultural image, one wonders how the perception of Canada would change if Canadian filmmakers exploited the Hollywood machine for a little cultural aggrandizement. Imagine if James Cameron made one of his testosterone-driven block busters where a Canadian hero saved the day...or even if he just hired a few Canadian actors!
And now Gosling and Page are joining an exclusive club of 'Hollywood directors'. Doubtless, they'll be directing with training wheels and having executives vet their every colour scheme. Still, they will be in the director's chair and I wonder if there'll be anything Canadian about their films. Will a heroic character be Canadian? Will there be a juicy, career defining role for a fellow Canuck in need of a break?
They're working the Hellmouth...but for whose benefit?