Out of the countless industries to take a TKO hit this year, one particularly close to my heart is the film industry. Chris Nolan might have deluded himself into believing his new film Tenet will reopen the theatre industry this summer (and that, if it does, people will actually show up) but I’m less optimistic. As someone who normally loves the theatre experience—the big screen, the excitement, the popcorn—the last thing I want to do in the midst of a pandemic is sit in an enclosed room full of strangers for two hours. Even if theatres employ social distancing measures and only partially fill the rooms, the best result is still drastically reduced ticket sales. I’m no business major, but for Tenet to make back its $200 million budget in 2020…it’s just not realistic. Even with the push toward drive-in showings this summer, there are only so many drive-in options and not everybody has a car.
But if even a guaranteed blockbuster from the creator of Inception and The Dark Knight struggles to make bank, what does that mean for smaller releases? The Canadian film industry is precarious on a good day; historically dominated by the US, Canadian filmmakers have always struggled to carve out a space for themselves in their own backyard. And when I say always, I mean always: back in 1930, at the beginning of what we understand Hollywood to be, Maclean’s called the American film industry “a movie Mussolini” (a fantastically extra description) in an article on “the ‘screen war’ which has resulted in virtual domination of the Canadian motion picture field by a gigantic United States corporation.” The culture was already set: audiences were drawn to the higher-budget, flashier productions from south of the border.
Cut to today, and this same mindset exists. It’s funny, because plenty of films and TV shows are filmed in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver—our little Hollywood Norths. Toronto is well known as a hotbed of filming, always dressed up as Chicago or Baltimore or some equivalent American city. Vancouver is Netflix and CW heaven: Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The 100, Charmed, The Flash, and Supernatural are all filmed there (and that’s only a sample). But, being American productions, none of these shows or movies take place in Canada. Even our brilliant hometown success story, Schitt’s Creek, is careful not to mention its Ontario locale, despite very obviously being set here (the motel is in Orangeville), lest it scare off American viewers.
Granted, Canada makes way fewer movies and shows than the States, owing to the size and budget of our industry. But even these small few have trouble getting through the gates. With all the COVID-related disruptions, what once was difficult is now even more so. March and April are often slated for independent fare in theatres, which means that the indies scheduled for this year have lost their chance. As The Globe and Mail puts it, “It’s traditionally the only window they get – after the Oscar fare goes, and before the summer Hollywood blockbusters arrive – and it was already Kate-Moss-skinny.” Once the film industry’s gears start turning again, it’s easy to conclude that, with a now-crowded film schedule, smaller budget productions will get kicked to the curb for more lucrative fare. “So is this the end of theatrical releases for homegrown indies?” asks that same Globe and Mail article.
It very well might be, but the truth is this trend has been on the rise for some time now. In 2019, Vanity Fair asked, “Is the mid-budget movie an endangered species?” For context, a mid-budget movie is something like Joker or Little Women; movies that you might skip in theatre and watch at home. They don’t make as much money as massive blockbusters, because most people don’t want to drop $20 minimum to watch something unless they’re guaranteed a spectacle (but of course, you have your mid-budget success stories like A Star is Born, Hustlers, and Crazy Rich Asians, though I think these fall easily into the “spectacle” category). Because a profit is not guaranteed, studios are increasingly eyeing streaming releases for films of this budget, rather than theatrical. And this, I think, is good news for Canada!
Studios and theatres are often too conservative for their own good; think about the diversity you see in big-budget productions versus on television shows. Often too scared to put money behind anything “high-risk”, studios send their would-be “risky” stuff straight to Netflix and its ilk. And that means it reaches a much wider audience than it would in a limited theatrical release. Let’s look at Schitt’s Creek again: a tiny Canadian production about small-town Ontario with an openly queer male lead that exploded in popularity all around the globe once it was added to Netflix. Same thing with Anne With an E, whose intense fans like to spam social media hoping for renewal. We see the same with non-English outputs as well; Netflix shows like Narcos, Dark, and Money Heist have proved popular (along with my personal trashy favourite, Elite). A good show is a good show. As the iconic quote goes, “If you build it, they will come.” So I would say all hope is not lost, and in fact may be stronger than ever. If Canadian content can find its groove in the at-home market, rather than competing futilely against Hollywood, we might finally have an appropriate outlet for homegrown creativity.
All that being said, there are lots of Canadian-made films ready for streaming now! Your library card gives you access to Kanopy; an excellent source for streaming Canadian, international, and independent American movies. In honour of Canada Day, here are some locally-made films that you can check out and start streaming today (once you’re finished drinking beer on your back deck by the lake, of course). For a full list, head over to Kanopy’s Canadian Film section!
Canadian Films on Kanopy
“Based on a true story, this amorous drama follows the unlikely romance between Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins) and reclusive fishmonger Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke).”
“Shock jock Grant Mazzy has been kicked-off the Big City airwaves and now the only job he can get is the early morning show in Pontypool Ontario, which broadcasts from the basement of the small town’s church. What begins as another boring day quickly turns deadly when reports start piling in of people developing strange speech patterns and evoking horrendous acts of violence start piling in. But there’s nothing coming in on the news wires. Is this really happening?”
“Nova Scotia. 1976. The weekend of the American Bicentennial. When 15-year-old Kit decides that living with his father is too repressive, he hits the road to move in with his mother. Accompanied by his girlfriend Alice, Kit will explore his very core – his sexuality, his sense of place and self – in an attempt to find a place to call home.”
“When notary Lebel sits down with Jeanne and Simon Marwan to read them their mother’s will, Nawal, the twins are stunned to receive a pair of envelopes – one for the father they thought was dead and another for a brother they didn’t know existed. With Lebel’s help, the twins piece together the story of the woman who brought them into the world, discovering a tragic fate forever marked by war and hatred as well as the courage of an exceptional woman.”
“During a hot and hazy summertime in northern Ontario, 13-year-old Bea wants a best friend more than anything else, but when she meets boisterous Kate, she gets more than she imagined. A story of bravery, small-town summer love, and the secret world of girls.“
For more Canadian film and television recommendations on DVD/Blu-ray, check out our list below.