By Paris Spence-Lang
VANCOUVER — What if I told you that you could watch seemingly unlimited movies in their original resolution, hand-chosen for you by experts, all without paying your Netflix membership? Welcome to Canada On Screen.
Intended to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, Canada On Screen is a year-long national showcase of our best in film. Along with the Toronto International Film Festival, Library and Archives Canada, and Cinematheque Quebecois, Vancouver’s Pacific Cinematheque has spent years preparing for this celebration by collaborating on a list of 150 essential works of Canadian cinema and moving images. The best part? All Canada On Screen screenings are free. The second-best part? There’s a music video category, and Drake made it on the list.
Jim Sinclair, executive and artistic director at the Pacific Cinematheque, says it wasn’t easy getting down to 150. “How many feature films do you choose? How many documentaries do you choose? How many experimental films do you choose? … There was a lot of horse trading going on,” Sinclair says. Still, the work is important, not just for this year, but, as Sinclair believes, for decades to come. “We see this Canada On Screen project as being a living initiative. Every year or two we would add new names to this list of essential work.”
The celebration has a goal of spreading awareness, not just of Canadian films, but of how good they are. This includes cinema like 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould which laid groundwork for Bob Dylan flick I’m Not There, and Paul Anka documentary Lonely Boy which heralded a breakthrough for cinéma vérité.
It’s a difficult task. “Canadians read Canadian books, they watch Canadian television, they listen to Canadian music… but it can be harder to get Canadians out to see Canadian cinema, because our movie screens are so dominated by that massive industry across the border… Other countries have the same issues, but we’re right next door to the guys.” This cultural divide, by no coincidence, is explored in-depth in the opening-night classic of BC film My American Cousin, which inspired a generation of disenfranchised Canadian filmmakers.
Sinclair also wants the films to inspire the next generation of filmmakers, one raised on smartphones. “The tools are there. That’s no barrier to someone who’s inspired and has the vision. We’re not quite at the iPhone film stage yet but in ten years that very well may be a category.”
This future-focused mindset comes with the territory. To Sinclair, Canada On Screen is here to ensure the longevity of the industry. “Projects like this are ongoing ways of keeping Canadian cinema vital… and hopefully inspiring the artists of tomorrow who can see the remarkable achievements of almost the last 100 years in Canada… They have the potential and the drive and the desire… all they need is the inspiration. And Canada On Screen is about inspiring people.”
Opening night of Canada On Screen, featuring My American Cousin, happens Friday, January 6 at Pacific Cinematheque.BC, British Columbia, Canada On Screen, Pacific Cinematheque