No More Sex with our Snowshoes?

March 3, 2008

Let’s talk culture.

We know, we know. Typically, the conversation re: culture in Canada is a depressing and circular one where those who work in the creative industries complain that no one gets the chance to see their work and those who think of art as superfluous and snooty attack “funding-addicted” “smut-peddlars” for refusing to survive in a simple market system.

We know. That conversation is tragically tedious. We only bring it up because a) this week, the Conservatives managed to slip Bill C-10 under the dozing eyes of the House and b) because the Genie Awards take place in Toronto today.

C-10 is an amendment to the Income Tax Act that would allow the Heritage Minister to deny tax credit status to films it found “offensive.”

The Genie Awards are Canada’s Oscars, a largely unwatched ceremony that honours the best in Canadian film (or at least, the best in Canadian-funded film) from the past year.

It’s been a tough few months for culture in Canada. Shaw and Quebecor have tried to squeeze out of their Canadian Television Fund responsibilities, the CBC is considering cancelling its remarkable series Intelligence, and the government didn’t devote any new funding for the arts in their 2008 budget.

At the same time, however, this has been a banner year. As the Cultural Renaissance continued apace in the country’s large cities, 32 year-old Montreal sculptor David Altmejd wowed em at the Venice Biennale, Kickstart participant Yannick Nezet-Seguin was named the new Music Director at the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Canadian Indie wave continued unabatted, with Grammy nods for Feist, a stunning sophomore album for the Arcade Fire, and soul songstress Zaki Ibrahim on the cusp of breakout success.

It’s been an especially good one in the arena of movies. Canadian film’s long-time darling, Sarah Polley, secured two big Oscar nods (and seven Genie nods) for her bold and remarkably self-assured directorial debut, Away from Her, Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski re-invented stop-action animation in Madame Tutli-Putli, and Rob Stewart’s Sharkwater showed that a Canadian doc could fill theatres. And that’s not even mentioning the biggest success story of the year: Juno, a film directed by a Canadian (Jason Reitman), starring two Canadians (Ellen Page and Michael Cera), shot in Canada (Vancouver), and thematically as Canadian as moose testicles. It isn’t up for a Genie because it’s money isn’t Canuck money, but who cares? We still consider it Canadian to the core.

The Genies don’t get much attention these days. As Sarah Polley mentioned on CBC News: Sunday Night, filmmakers get letters of congratulation from their members of parliament when they receive Oscar nominations, not Genie nods. But, as per usual, there are some very good movies up for trophies this year.

And the award show will no doubt provide directors, actors and producers alike with due opportunity to rail at C-10.

You see, if “offensive” content (we’re talkin’ drugs, violence, and sex) were at issue, the following movies may never have gotten made:

David Cronenberg’s Oscar-nominated Eastern Promises – violence, sex, and more violence, all as stylised and gorey as possible (12 nominations);

Lazlo Barna and Michael Donovan’s Shake Hands with the Devil – nasty, genocide-y violence (12 nominations);

Denys Arcand’s L’Âge des ténèbres a middle aged man dreams of having sex with a lot of women who aren’t his wife (4 nominations);

And what about classics such as Exotica, History of Violence, Kissed, or The Decline of the American Empire? Canadian film is all about “Weird Sex and Snowshoes” (apologies to Katherine Monk). It is because, on some level, that’s part of who we are. Moreover, since art is meant to reflect and comment on contemporary realities, how on earth is anyone meant to reflect and comment on today’s society and culture without going near guns or orgasms?

Hearing the C-10 news the other day, we couldn’t help but think of Kickstart particpant Patricia Rozema, a filmmaker of international repute who, after working as a researcher at The National, threw herself head-first into the challenging world of Canadian filmmaking back in the eighties. She made friends with the likes of Atom Egoyan and Peter Mettler, and worked as an assitant director for David Cronenberg, absorbing everything she could about an art form with which she was still largely unfamiliar beyond sitting in darkened theatres.

When Rozema’s debut feature I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (made for only $400,000, and financed by Telefilm) debuted at the Cannes film festival in 1987 it won La Prix de la Jeunesse. The film was a playful, but difficult look at the life of a naive and “organisationally challenged” temp and amateur photographer who becomes increasingly obsessed with the lesbian relationship occurring between her boss and her lover. Would, we asked ourselves, I’ve Hear the Mermaids Singinghave been classed as “offensive” back in 1987? Might a Heritage Minister in a position to deny tax credit status have singled it out and sunk it? It’s difficult to know. But it’s definitely possible that, had a policy like C-10 existed, Rozema’s star (she has just finished directing the upcoming Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) may never have taken off.

Who knows how many other Canadian directors and producers that goes for as well.

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