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Gendering the Nation

Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women's Cinema

Kay Armatage
Kass Banning
Brenda Longfellow
Janine Marchessault
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    Gendering the Nation
    Book Description:

    The definitive collection of essays, both original and previously published, that address the impact and influence of a century of women's film making in Canada.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7522-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  4. Gendering the Nation
    (pp. 3-14)
    Kay Armatage, Kass Banning, Brenda Longfellow and Janine Marchessault

    As editors of this anthology, we came together from a conviction that Canadian women’s cinema represents a richly diverse and evolving body of work that has contributed both to Canadian cinema and to an international feminist film culture. We felt that the films produced by Canadian women deserved a focused and dense exploration that would draw upon the critical discourses of Canadian cinema and women’s cinema. Assembling the book allowed us to look back at the films that mobilized our ideas and desires; films that educated, provoked, and inspired us; films we carried around inside us; and films that too...

  5. Pioneer

    • Nell Shipman: A Case of Heroic Femininity
      (pp. 17-38)

      New historiographical approaches are emerging in discussions integrating cinema history with film theory. As Tom Gunning writes, ‘anyone can see that the apathy toward history evident in film theory in the early and middle seventies has been replaced by a mode of interpenetration ... Now ... film historians have appeared for whom film theory played a vital role and who are as interested in exploring what a factisas in discovering one. Likewise theorists have realized increasingly the importance not only of the historian’s facts, but of historical research and speculation in approaching issues of spectatorship, narrative structure, and...

  6. Documentary

    • Studio D’s Imagined Community: From Development (1974) to Realignment (1986–1990)
      (pp. 41-61)

      This essay emerged from a much larger case study of Studio D and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in which I explore the problem of defining and redefining the culturally plural nation in the late twentieth century. In that larger project, my doctoral thesis, I study the connection between Canadian national identity and cultural production, as well as the interactions between gender identity and national identity, by showing how Studio D negotiates a position for itself within a nation-building institution. Using gender as an interpretive framework and highlighting film as central to the production of national identity, as...

    • Anti-Porn: Soft Issue, Hard World
      (pp. 62-75)
      B. RUBY RICH

      Why has the anti-porn movement been so popular with the dominant media? My suspicions are not benign. For one thing, in a society that has failed to distinguish between sexuality and pornography, the anti-porn movement is a perfect vehicle for lumping all feminists together into one posse, a bunch of sex cops out to handcuff the body politic’s cock. The ensuing ridicule can always offset any serious statements. Second, the subject offers the chance to talk about sex, something the mainstream media are never loath to take up. Third, the anti-porn movement is probably seen, and rightly so, as profoundly...

    • Storytelling and Resistance: The Documentary Practice of Alanis Obomsawin
      (pp. 76-93)

      Alanis Obomsawin is the best-known of the Native documentary filmmakers in Canada.¹ Born in New Hampshire in 1932, she spent part of her childhood near Sorel, Quebec, on the Odanak reserve of the Abenaki nation. She lived there with the family of Jesse Benedict, her maternal aunt, until she moved at the age of nine with her parents to Trois Rivières. Of the period in her life at Trois Rivières, Obomsawin recalls her cultural estrangement and, as the only Native child at school, her first encounter with prejudice and racism.² After moving to Montreal in the late 1950s, having learned...

    • A Cinema of Duty: The Films of Jennifer Hodge de Silva
      (pp. 94-108)

      Whether or not future histories of black filmmaking in Canada begin with Jennifer Hodge de Silva, they will have to acknowledge her importance. Best-known today for her 1983 documentaryHome Feeling: Struggle for a Community, Hodge de Silva directed a number of films during the 1980s that established the dominant mode in African Canadian film culture. Working exclusively in the documentary and often on sponsored films, she staked out a set of concerns and a mode of production that might be termed black liberalism.Home Feelingexplored relations between police and black immigrant communities in Toronto’s Jane–Finch neighbourhood, but...

    • Keepers of the Power: Story as Covenant in the Films of Loretta Todd, Shelley Niro, and Christine Welsh
      (pp. 109-119)

      A month had passed since I’d interviewed Loretta Todd for almost three hours. A phone call came in from the University of Toronto: would I write a chapter for a book on Canadian women’s cinema? I’d been recommended as one who could write with Expertise on the topic. It took me one week to decide to accept the responsibility. Expertise? What I understand in the work of these filmmakers is only one way of understanding, informed by my particular experiences and by the layered histories that pass – or don’t pass – through my family. Speaking for hours with someone...

    • To Document – to Imagine – to Simulate
      (pp. 120-134)

      Can the documentary cinema and documentary images be thought about differently?

      (Difference in the psychoanalytic sense and differences at the levels of gender, ethnicity, and the body – and so, differences in images and in what they depict, the very question of how to document the world in a different way – the structure of difference as an entry point for political claims and arguments, for ways of thinking about resistance and change, and most importantly the role of Canadian women in the production of new approaches to the documentary cinema and video.)

      (To some degree, documentary films, documentary images,...

  7. Avant-Garde

    • Feminist Avant-Garde Cinema: From Introspection to Retrospection
      (pp. 137-147)

      If English Canada has an Experimental film tradition it is one in which efforts of women filmmakers have been largely absent. This can be attributed to the fact that with very few exceptions films produced by women have not conformed to the rigours of an international modernism. Nor can they be seen to correspond to the structural concerns generally identified with the names of Michael Snow, Jack Chambers, and David Rimmer. Indeed, the distinction between avant-garde and Experimental cinema is useful for understanding feminist film culture in this country. The Canadian experimental legacy is short in comparison with the American...

    • The Scene of the Crime: Genealogies of Absence in the Films of Patricia Gruben
      (pp. 148-162)

      Patricia Gruben’s two decades of filmmaking provide us with a rich index to many of the issues central to feminist theory and practice:The Central Character’s (1978) recipes for women’s absence from the public sphere; the archaeology of feminine discourse inSifted Evidence(1982); the use of technology to invent identity inLow Visibility(1984); the recovery of the unconscious inDeep Sleep(1989); the search inLey Lines(1992) through maps and archives for the father/homeland; and, most recently, the (re)turn inBefore It Blows(1997) to questions of nature and desire.¹ Never at rest in a particular genre,...

  8. Narrative Fiction

    • Gender, Landscape, and Colonial Allegories in The Far Shore, Loyalties, and Mouvements du désir
      (pp. 165-182)

      This paper is a major revision of an article I wrote almost ten years ago, ‘The Melodramatic Imagination in Canadian Women’s Cinema.’¹ That article marked a starting point from which to reconsider the thematic and theoretical frameworks we have used to talk about Canadian women’s cinema. If my textual readings in that article circulated around the effort to lay claim to a unique difference of women’s cinema, a subsequent decade and a half of filmmaking and theorizing has more than laid to rest the possibility of that project. As Teresa de Lauretis has pointed out, the contemporary revisioning of feminist...

    • A Minority on Someone Else’s Continent: Identity, Difference, and the Media in the Films of Patricia Rozema
      (pp. 183-196)

      A great deal of scholarship on Canadian film and popular culture has focused on documenting the terms of the ideological and economic colonization of Canada’s industries of self-representation. Although Canada’s entertainment industries have long been dominated by American-based images and interests, there is little scholarship on the representation of the media either as a tool of domination or as a mechanism of resistance.

      The films of Patricia Rozema offer a productive model for the study of the function of communications media in Canadian cinema.Passion(1985),I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing(1987), andWhite Room(1990) investigate, in different ways,...

    • Barbaras en Québec: Variations on Identity
      (pp. 197-211)

      If the issue of national identity and the process ofl’identitaireseem irremediably tied to any film produced in Quebec, the association between sexuality, identity, and nation seems a forbidden fruit. And I am not talking strictly in terms of women and nation. For instance, very few essays have been written about the construction of masculinity in relation to the national discourse in Quebec cinema. Nation and masculinity are generally assumed to be the same – one homogeneous process ofl’identitaire. Indeed, in their breakthrough articles on the articulation between homosexuality and nationhood, Robert Schwartzwald and Gilles Thérien have analysed...

    • Mourning the Woman’s Film: The Dislocated Spectator of The Company of Strangers
      (pp. 212-224)

      The Company of Strangers(1990), produced by the National Film Board’s Studio B and directed by Cynthia Scott, is a documentary that takes a ‘detour’ into fiction. It is a film on aging, with seven elderly women as its subject, that takes the form of a narrative precariously balanced between ethnography and performance, history and pathos. The delicate interweaving of documentary and fiction through the thematics of mortality and female bonding produces a very unusual spectatorial effect. As cinematic and photographic realisms become encounters with death, the spectator is drawn into the ‘pathetic’ histories of the film’s ethnographic subjects. The...

    • Fragmenting the Feminine: Aesthetic Memory in Anne Claire Poirier’s Cinema
      (pp. 225-243)

      Anne Claire Poirier has been a politicized and influential Québécoise film director, editor, and writer, one of the pioneers¹ of modern film production and feminism at the Office national du film du Canada (ONF, the French branch of the National Film Board) with roots as a producer in the French Unit and the Société nouvelle program (established in the 1960s to effect social change by putting the means of production into the people’s hands). Poirier locates her cinema’s political engagement in the most important liberation movement of the era, women’s liberation, and belongs to that generation of francophone filmmakers in...

    • Two plus Two: Contesting the Boundaries of Identity in Two Films by Micheline Lanctôt
      (pp. 244-252)

      There is a moment toward the end ofDeux actrices(Two Can Play, 1993), an improvisational 16mm feature by Micheline Lanctôt, that might stand for the film as a whole. Marginal to the narrative – a ‘bracket syntagma,’ as we might once have described it² – it is central to the theme of the film. After Fabienne, the indomitable sister, has tried to commit suicide, Solange, the domitable one, is waiting for a bus when she is confronted by a strangely huge woman. S/he is, in fact, a male transvestite, seeking reassurance that s/he looks feminine enough, that s/he hasn’t...

    • Cowards, Bullies, and Cadavers: Feminist Re-Mappings of the Passive Male Body in English-Canadian and Québécois Cinema
      (pp. 253-273)

      Although until recently feminist film theory has shown little interest in the male body as a site of social meaning or as an object of the cinematic gaze, it has been a different story on the domestic production side: our own women filmmakers in English Canada and Quebec have made masculinity and its embodied forms an intermittent focus of interest for over thirty years.¹ Beginning with Joyce Wieland’s satiric exploration of phallic nationalism inPatriotism, Part One(1964), taking on a distinct new form in the early Québécois filmsMourir à tue-tête(1979) andLa Vie rêvée(1972), and extending...

    • Querying/Queering the Nation
      (pp. 274-290)

      In rethinking a definition for women’s cinema while reflecting on 1980s cinema by and/or for women, Teresa de Lauretis concludes that women’s cinema has emerged historically as both a practice and an attitude, a relationship between text and context. She suggests that there are any number of ‘guerrilla tactics‘ – discursive possibilities, specific textual strategies, and counter-cinema audiences – that contribute to the ambiguity of the term ‘women’s cinema.’ She cites some of the contributing factors that help to create a women’s film community as being the ‘mutual support and interchange between feminist film critics, scholars, festival organizers, distributors, and...

    • Playing in the Light: Canadianizing Race and Nation
      (pp. 291-310)

      Although separated by the speakers’ ethnic and generational differences, these quotations illustrate two filmmakers’ attempts to steer the reception of their films away from a limited racialized reading. The entreaty that their work be considered beyond chromatics – that crossover and universal themes be recognized – is motivated by more than market considerations. It indicates a shared, tacit understanding that ethnicity brings an attendant particularism that annuls the possibility of making allegorical statements. The justifiable concern about being pegged by ‘race,’ and its inherent operations of racial prejudice, is not uncommon. In the dramatic case of African-American writer Anatole Broyard...

  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 311-316)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 317-320)
  11. Index
    (pp. 321-329)