Canada Cinematography Part II

By | December 25, 2021

The full operation of the ONF began in 1941, also from the point of view of the provision of an operation and distribution network linked to documentary and independent cinema (for example, a circuit of rooms equipped for 16 mm). Grierson thus gave a decisive impetus to the cinematography of Canada; in that same year he created a section for the animated film, at the head of which he called the English McLaren, who in a short time made Canadian animated cinema famous in the world, giving it the status of a work of art, as well as contributing (for example in the conception and supervision of the series Chants populaires and Let’s all sing together, 1944) to the recovery of a patrimony of popular traditions. In parallel, in the forties, two private organizations took on importance, Renaissance Films and Québec Productions, both linked to the idea of ​​a Catholic-inspired cinema, whose moralizing intentions transpired in works such as La forteresse (1948; The past is always present) by Fëdor Ozep and Le gros Bill (1949) by René Delacroix, both directors exiled to Canada. In particular, Ozep, of Russian origin, also with other films (such as Le père Chopin, 1944), of relative success in the French-speaking circuit, was part of an awakening of fictional cinema that started from Québec and was looking for, with melodramatic films or with theatrical works based on suspense and inspired by famous radio plays, to counteract the colonization of American cinema. From the composite narrative landscape of these films shone a society in transformation, in which a religious moralism of rural origin contradicted a social dynamism with an urban imprint. In about ten years, around twenty feature films were shot in Québec, until 1953, when the advent of the new television medium stifled the timid French-speaking cinematic awakening. The postwar period, however, saw a pressing request to the government, from the weak film industry, to take over a policy of promotion and incentives. The ambiguous result was an agreement with the US industry, a memorandum of understanding, the Canadian cooperation project, which provided for the promotion of documentary production, especially in its tourist aspects, but which also limited, as a counterpart, the development of a independent national production. Object of the agreement was also the realization on Canadian sets of some films by important directors, such as I confess (1953; Io confesso) by Alfred Hitchcock (whose work in Canada will later constitute the starting point for the subject of Le confessional, 1995, Il confessional, film debut by theater director Robert Lepage), and The 13th letter (1951; The red pen) by Otto Preminger, a remake of Le corbeau (1943; The crow) by Henri-Georges Clouzot. With a self-promotional intent, a national award was also established in 1948, the Canadian Film Award (in its first best film edition was The loon’s necklace, 1948, by Frank R. Crawley), which in 1980 changed its name to the Genie Award. For Canada 2006, please check computergees.com.

In the 1950s, English-speaking directors, for linguistic as well as industrial reasons, were drawn into the orbit of Anglo-Saxon or US cinema. Sidney J. Furie began his career in those years with low budget films such as A dangerous age (1958) to continue it in Great Britain and the United States. Keeping an eye on the US market, a tendency developed that favored nightmare climates and horror effects (which will have success in Canadian cinema, also inserting author’s poetics into the codes of the genre, for example with David Cronenberg); one of the first examples of 3D horror, The mask (1961; The mask and the nightmare) by Julian Roffman, testified to this.

In the mid-1950s, ONF found a form of relaunch and evolution in the production of newsreels through the collaboration with the television medium. A television series, Candid eye, aroused interest, characterized by the lightness of the means used and the immediacy and originality of the language, in which several documentary makers collaborated, including Terence Macartney-Filgate, Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, Wolf Koenig. The latter also worked in the animation cinema sector of the ONF which, in the meantime, with the works of McLaren, awarded and acclaimed at international festivals (Begone dull care, 1949, at the Venice Film Festival; Neighbors, 1952, winner of an Oscar for best documentary; Blinkity blank, 1955, awarded at the Cannes Film Festival), had obtained worldwide recognition, the whole of Canadian cinema could be proud of. With the transfer of the ONF to Montréal (1956), French-speaking cinema received a decisive impulse; here has its roots what, starting from the first half of the 1960s, would have been the rebirth of Canadian cinema, made possible above all by the activity of Québec. The creative fervor that had already manifested itself in experiments – both in animated cinema and documentary film, in the last years of ONF’s stay in Ottawa – as well as the forms of collaboration with television channels found significant development in Québec. A new style was born, a new conception of filming which, also in harmony with the contemporary European nouvelles vagues, widened the field from a classic documentary to a form of Truth cinema which also influenced fictional cinema, and which was defined as cinéma direct. The directors of this movement were Claude J. Fournier, Gilles Groulx, Michel Brault, Jacques Godbout, also influenced by the lesson of the Frenchman Jean Rouch (who went to Canada to collaborate with them), while directors such as Gilles Carle, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, Claude Jutra, Pierre Perrault began to create a cinema that faced the social and psychological reality of Canadians. A mixture of fiction and documentary took place, docudramas were made that retraced Canadian history and the stages of colonization. A director like Denys Arcand embarked on his own personal cinematographic journey, in harmony with his historiography studies, which will proceed with an ideological x-ray of social reality, marked by a political reading that is also irreverent and demystifying. In the mid-1960s, the awakening of Canadian cinema and the creative effervescence led to a parallel configuration of two autonomous production activities, Anglophone and Francophone.

Canada Cinematography Part II