Restitching the West Coast

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Canada has one of the prestigious film events for filmmakers around the world, the Toronto International Film Festival. What people might not know, is that at the beginning of their cinema growth, they were confronted with various issues, this included the development of documentaries.

Piers Handling and Jerry White said that documentary growth in Canada could not be separated from the development of the National Film Board (NFB), an institution that was made on May 2nd, 1939. Their presence emerged as a pioneer in the development of almost all forms of films, including documentaries, animation, up to features. The initial development was merely a promotional tool. One in the highlights is a film called Living Canada, designed to persuade people in the United Kingdom to migrate to Canada.

In addition, Canadian documentaries found their significance in the First World War era. Not only physical war, they also brought discourse war along into the arena. The NFB that existed under John Grierson, further promote the growth of documentary. It transformed into a medium to spread information, like Canada Carries On and The World in Action, that has transformed into propaganda tools and reached millions of viewers. After the war, Canadian documentary–which was still widely initiated by NFB–became another form of record about ethnic groups, indigenous people, and social problems that exists in Canada.

The themes of documentaries that particularly emerged  after the world war, is not necessarily a whole new thing. Its development was only rife after the war abated, but the seeds can already be traced since 1914.

FFD 2019 - Opening Day

That year, anthropologist Edward S. Curtis directed In the Land of the Head Hunters with the Kwakiutl people in Birtish Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province. Aside from presenting a fairly close perspective on the Kwakiutl people, this film has become a significant milestone regarding the existence of documentaries from Canada’s west coast. This is because the claim of this film being based on documentary principles prevailing at that time.

In addition, this film was also one of the films that openly showed British Columbia as a province that is a part of Canada’s west coast. Something that is no longer visible in the west coast film productions thereafter.

Even the marginalization of Canada can also be seen from the British Columbia’s stance. The province is one of Canadian cinema production bases, that is not inferior to other places such as Toronto or Montreal. Tax incentives that lure filmmakers was the reason that could certainly cut production costs. Nevertheless, there were regrettable things that stick out from these conditions. Very rarely did a film project feature panoramas like the exotic and coastal forests of British Columbia as the area itself. Instead the urban and rural spaces are often offered as stand-ins for American locales.

FFD 2019 - Einst

This year, Festival Film Dokumenter (FFD) tries to reintroduce how the actual panorama of one area is often the object of exploitation in a cinematic presentation. Focus on Canada: Pacific Standard Time brings together historical and contemporary motion pictures from the filmmakers and artists from British Columbia. Each of their pieces answers questions about the different cinematic temporalities and geographical characteristics of the Canadian west coast.

This time, Focus on Canada will present seven films. It begins with a countdown from Opening Day (Zoe Kirk-Gushowaty, 2016) which captures the thrill of the Hastings runway in Vancouver; the filming is interesting because it relies solely on one Super 8 film roll.

Other filmmakers utilize a single roll of film as a point of departure for their investigations. Whether it’s the duration of the captivating one take shot in Einst (Jessica Johnson, 2016). Or Chris Gallagher’s Seeing in the Rain (1981), whose documentation of a drizzly bus ride down Vancouver’s Granville Street is shuffled and edited together into a hypnotic play of starts and stops.

FFD 2019 - Television Spots

In other screenings, the time and place overlap in the work of Canadian Pacific II (David Rimmer, 1975) who compiled clips recording trains, mountains, and the Port of Vancouver. While Eclipse (Peter Lipkis, 1979) as the name suggests, presents an eclipse that is seen directly from inside a hotel room, along with its coverage on television.

Finally, the program includes pieces by video artists that take inspiration from the short and the long. Produced according to TV exhibition standards and broadcast locally amidst traditional advertisements, Stan Douglas’ Television Spots (1991) offer mysterious hints of narratives in 15 and 30 second fragments. As well as the exploration of T.W.U. Tel (Amelia Produtions, 1981) documented the five-day occupation of British Columbia’s major telephone centres by its workers union.

Focus on Canada: Pacific Standard Time can be enjoyed at FFD 2019 on December 2nd-7th, 2019. Please see our festival schedule for the full agenda of FFD 2019.