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Candid Eyes

Candid Eyes: Essays on Canadian Documentaries

Jim Leach
Jeannette Sloniowski
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Candid Eyes
    Book Description:

    Documentaries have dominated Canada's film production and have been crucial to the formation of Canada's cinematic identity. This volume will be an indispensable companion for anyone seriously interested in Canadian film studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2095-7
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    Each of the essays in this book deals with a single Canadian documentary and provides a close reading of the film text in its historical, cultural, and cinematic contexts. The emphasis and approaches differ, according to the authors’ interests and the films’ specific characteristics, but the dual focus on text and context remains constant. In this way, while examining some key films in the Canadian documentary tradition, these essays also raise important questions about how documentary films represent reality and about critical methods that seek to respond to their representations.

    There is nothing new in acknowledging the important contribution of...

  6. Geography and Myth in Paul Tomkowicz: Coordinates of National Identity
    (pp. 13-30)

    Mid-winter, 1953, 8:00 a.m. With the satisfaction of a job well done, a robust, 64-year-old man hangs up his parka and sits at a lunch counter anticipating his reward. By prior signal, breakfast has been prepared – coffee, a stack of rye bread, sausages, and at least half a dozen boiled eggs. We hear his inner thoughts – marking one of the most fondly aped lines in Canadian documentary film: ‘Coffee … black coffee … some eggs in the morning!’ He deserves every one of them. He has just come off his all-night shift in the heart of Winnipeg, Manitoba,...

  7. The Days before Christmas and the Days before That
    (pp. 31-47)

    Cinema’s evolution, like biological evolution, seems in retrospect not so much a steady progression as a series of relatively sudden and extreme responses to dramatic disruptions of the status quo. No sooner does moving photography evolve its own mode of narrative expression amid the visual and performing arts than it is challenged by the coming of sound. Sound too creates a cinema previously undescribed and perhaps indescribable. The same happens with colour, widescreen, video, and digital. These challenges not only come in the production of new work but are also manifested in the consideration of what came before. Silent film...

  8. From Obscurity in Ottawa to Fame in Freedomland: Lonely Boy and the Cultural Meaning of Paul Anka
    (pp. 48-60)

    In this essay I want to explore the cultural meaning of Canadian pop singer Paul Anka, and examine Anka in terms of what Richard Dyer, in his discussion of the phenomenon of stardom, calls ‘a complex configuration of visual, verbal and aural signs,’ and how that meaning is expressed by Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor in their short documentary film,Lonely Boy.¹ Made in 1961 by members of Tom Daly’s Unit B of the National Film Board,Lonely Boyis recognized as ‘one of the most famous of all the Unit B films,’ and a major contribution to documentary filmmaking...

  9. Images and Information: The Dialogic Structure of Bûcherons de la Manouane by Arthur Lamothe
    (pp. 61-70)

    Like a mechanical monster from outer space, a bulldozer moves left across a black screen, its twin spotlights like extraterrestrial eyes lighting up the darkness of the night. The engine of a truck turns over as we hear the crunch on the snow of men marching towards it. They climb in and exchange glances (a few with the camera), talking about the cold. Leaving their camp in the early morning, they are going to work – to cut wood nine miles away.

    Now in its own truck, the camera travels in front of them, the snow cast up by the...

  10. Linking Community Renewal to National Identity: The Filmmakers’ Role in Pour la suite du monde
    (pp. 71-86)

    One of the most faithful adherents to the principles of the so-calledcinéma directdocumentary, the late Pierre Perrault (1927–1999) made twelve feature-length films, threemoyens métrages, and two short films, without counting the series of thirteen shorts on which he had earlier collaborated with René Bonnière. This stands in addition to seven collections of poetry and one collection of found poems, seven highly annotated film transcripts, four collections of essays, one play, one book-length interview, almost a hundred articles, and almost 700 radio documentaries averaging thirty minutes in length. The scholarship on the work of Perrault is equally...

  11. Dark Satanic Mills: Denys Arcand’s On est au coton
    (pp. 87-102)

    One of the most awkward questions raised by the documentary traditions associated with the National Film Board and its founder John Grierson is how to tell the difference between public service and public relations. Although Grierson saw documentary as a force for social change, the NFB has constantly had to find ways to make innovative and challenging documentaries without alienating the government bodies on whom it depends for its funding. Most of the films produced at the NFB are functional works of information often commissioned by government departments and used in educational contexts. In this way, the NFB provides a...

  12. Performing the Master Narratives: Michael Rubbo’s Waiting for Fidel
    (pp. 103-114)

    In one of the very few articles written on internationally known filmmaker Michael Rubbo, Piers Handling poses the following question: ‘Why do his films, made by the state film organization [the National Film Board] not get shown by the state television network [the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]?’² Although Handling posed this question in 1984, it is still pertinent today – particularly with respect toWaiting for Fidel(1974), Rubbo’s sixteenth documentary film. Handling’s answer to his own question is that Rubbo’s ‘subjective’ style does not fit the CBC’s pretence of documentary or journalistic ‘objectivity.’³New York Timesfilm critic David Denby...

  13. Hard Film to Define – Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry
    (pp. 115-130)

    John Grierson referred to documentary film as the ‘creative treatment of actuality.’² With these words he provided a compact and suggestive definition that remains a useful starting point for thinking about both the broad range of film practices that the word ‘documentary’ has come to cover, and the ways in which we distinguish documentary film from other forms. Both issues are implicit in Donald Brittain’s expressed uncertainty over how to classifyVolcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry, released by the National Film Board in 1976, codirected by Brittain and John Kramer.Volcanobuilds an account...

  14. Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography – Tabloid Rhetoric in Interventionist Documentary
    (pp. 131-147)

    Produced by the women’s studio, Studio D,Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography(Bonnie Sherr Klein, 1981) was the National Film Board’s most publicly debated film. For the first time an NFB documentary dared to show the visual spectacle and social actors within pornography and the feminist voices against it. Klein’s film was both sanctioned and celebrated, depending upon the critical dispositions taken by those who read the film’s problematic documentary approach and feminist agenda. Klein’s use of pornographic resources, in a documentary that explores the topic using a rather transparent biblical motif of redemption, is anchored in...

  15. Voyage en Amérique avec un cheval emprunté: A Journey of the Mind
    (pp. 148-163)

    Voyage en Amérique avec un cheval emprunté(Travels in America with a Borrowed Horse, Jean Chabot, 1987) is part of a National Film Board series conceived and produced by Eric Michel, and devoted toaméricanité. This series comprised six documentaries, all produced between 1986 and 1988. Its goal was to encourage filmmakers to consider Quebec’s place in North America, to putquébécitudeinto perspective by exploring theaméricanité, more or less conscious and more or less well understood and accepted, within it.¹

    However,américanité, a concept more abstract than ‘Americanization’ or ‘acculturation’ and even the ‘globalization’ it implies, proved to...

  16. Queer Cinema at the NFB: The ‘Strange Case’ of Forbidden Love
    (pp. 164-180)

    According to Annamarie Jagose, ‘Queer describes those gestures or analytical models which dramatise incoherencies in the allegedly stable relations between chromosomal sex, gender and sexual desire.’¹ As broad and potentially inconcise as this definition seems to be, when queer techniques are strategically employed the results are often recognizable, if not easily quantifiable. Queering is an activity, as well as an analytical model, that invites us to reconsider the most central and highly held values of a society; queering makes the ordinary appear strange and can provide an opportunity to rethink the logic of the sexual hegemony of social and political...

  17. ‘This Land Is Ours’ – Storytelling and History in Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
    (pp. 181-196)

    Alanis Obomsawin, a filmmaker from the Abenaki nation, begins her documentaryKanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistanceby saying that ‘the story you will see takes place near Montreal in Kanehsatake, a Mohawk village near the town of Oka, and in Kahnawake, a Mohawk reserve south of the city at the Mercier Bridge.’ With these lines, she locates herself and the film within the storytelling tradition that is the cornerstone of First Nations’ knowledge, culture, and history. This chapter explores the centrality of this tradition in Obomsawin’s practice and, through an analysis of the film and of its production and reception,...

  18. Hyperbolic Masculinity and the Ironic Gaze in Project Grizzly
    (pp. 197-210)

    Produced in 1996 by the National Film Board and directed by Peter Lynch,Project Grizzlypremiered at the Toronto Film Festival to wildly enthusiastic reviews. A surprise hit on the festival circuit, it won Best Ontario Film at the Sudbury Film Festival, was released to over fifty theatrical screens in Canada (principally repertory houses and cinematheques), and went on to become one of the top-ten-grossing feature films in Canada that year. Cut down to a forty-two-minute version and broadcast on CBC’sWitness, the film received one of the program’s highest ratings (600,000 viewers). All this is highly unusual for a...

  19. Sympathetic Understanding in Tu as crié Let Me Go
    (pp. 211-226)

    The many films of Anne Claire Poirier are distinguished by their exploration of women’s pain. Her films are unique for the way they use facts, interviews, and poetic narrative to consider childbirth and rearing, prostitution, war, rape, and most recently drug addiction. Many have commented on the emotional aspects of her work, combining the conventions of the melodrama with counter-cinema politics as André Loiselle has put it.¹ Certainly, Poirier’s films are striking for their engagement with female suffering, an engagement that often uses the properties of the film medium to elicit physical responses from audiences.

    The most remarked upon example...

  20. Filmography
    (pp. 227-230)
  21. Works Cited
    (pp. 231-242)
  22. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 243-244)
  23. General Index
    (pp. 245-248)