By Mathew Silver
The cult-classic FUBAR will be screened as part of The Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) at the Globe Cinema from April 17-23, almost 15 years after the indie flick earned a spot at Sundance and established itself in local film lore.
At its core, FUBAR is a tragicomedy about two emotionally ill-equipped friends, Terry and Dean, trying to confront the ugly literalness of death. It’s a lo-fi portrait of Canadiana, littered with bits of cultural realism that continues to resonate with fans a decade and a half later.
Director Michael Dowse said he could have never known that the mockumentary would have such a cultural impact: “Our goal was to make a good film, and to make a funny film… but we didn’t expect it to hit the way it did.”
Dowse, who went on to direct Goon, said that a mockumentary was the perfect platform for the film, because the modest production quality suits the tone of the film. After spending about twenty thousand dollars, he knew that he had a decent final cut of the film and an invitation to the Sundance Film Festival. What he didn’t know is that FUBAR would land on the short list of iconic Canadian films. In fact, a sequel was released by popular demand in 2010 and a TV run has been ordered by Rogers Media and VICE Studios.
The impact is obvious. FUBAR made a popular house-party beer, glamorized the mullet, and spawned several quotes like, “Turn up the good, turn down the suck” and “Tron funkin blow.” The film has stayed relevant by preserving itself in our vernacular and by evoking the high school experience – even if it’s told through the lens of two adult males clinging desperately to their youth.
For me, the appeal is familiar images: banal white suburban houses with bottle-strewn lawns, a Canadian flag hung tastelessly but by necessity in the living room, and the revelry of a party barely visible from the sidewalk through a tiny gap in the curtains; a Stamps’ game, floating down the Elbow River, and a fence outside of Western Canada High School (my Alma Mater, go Redbirds!).
Re-watching the film is an exercise in waxing nostalgic.
We learn from the title card that the documentary is “fictional,” with apologies to all the people who appeared in the movie thinking it was real. Dowse said this was done with complete sincerity, but despite the warning many people still can’t discern what was pre-ordained by the filmmakers and what might very well be real people who stumbled into the scene. In effect, it blurs the line between mockumentary and reality and creates a surreal experience for the viewer.
There’s a scene where two guys fistfight in High River, and it’s brutally authentic. Which is to suggest that neither of the guys can fight for shit but still gave it the good old college try. It’s scenes like this than lend the film a raw authenticity.
A decade ago, when I first watched the movie, I couldn’t tell whether Farrel Mitchner actually died after taking that seemingly innocuous dive into the river. It’s only now that I can appreciate the irony of Terry showing up to the wake in sweatpants and a cowboy shirt, and telling the now-cringeworthy “bin der dun dat” joke. Or even the fact that Terry and Deaner showed up at all.
And that’s one of the small pleasures of reliving these things 15 years later. Even Dowse said that he still gets gratification from knowing that the movie had a longstanding impact on people. “I think the thing I’m most proud of is that people really hold it close to their hearts. They like it as much as I cared about it when I made it. Even 15 years later it’s extremely satisfying.”
FUBAR will be shown on April 20th at the Globe Cinema as part of CUFF. Director Michael Dowse and star Dave Lawrence will be in attendance.
CUFF, CUFF 2017, Dave Lawrence, FUBAR, Globe Cinema, Michael Dowse