An interview with Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize winner and director of Rogers Best Canadian Film nominee Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, Ariane Louis-Seize.
Toronto Film Review’s 100 Best Canadian Films
July 1, 2018
A space where folks can share their love and knowledge of Canadian cinema.
It’s been over a year since David Davidson began generating lists of top Canadian films for Toronto Film Review, Davidson’s blog that is recognized and read by many in the Toronto (and Canadian) film community. It seems a simple enough task, given that list-making has been a journalistic go-to for decades; people love making lists as much as they love reading them. But Davidson has cast his net to academics and enthusiasts from across Canada. To date, 25 contributors (including Piers Handling, Steve Gravestock, and Marcel Jean) have responded, and results range from familiar Canadian centrepieces (Goin’ Down the Road, Nobody Waved Goodbye, Dead Ringers) to the eclectic (Christopher’s Movie Matinee, Holstein, How Heavy This Hammer). No two lists are alike.
Davidson is a fixture at TIFF Bell Lightbox, a self-professed film geek and scholar finishing up his cinema studies doctorate at the University of Toronto (and, as recently announced, teaching a course on Canadian cinema at the Cinema Studies Institute this summer).
Thom Ernst spoke with Davidson about the project at a U of T coffee shop, a place filled with single-seated students engaged in their laptops rather than in conversation. Nevertheless, David is in his element: full of enthusiasm for his project, happy for the chance to share.
Thom Ernst: Tell me a bit about your project to chronicle lists of the best Canadian titles.
David Davidson: The project was started an afternoon in 2017 after I saw a Canadian film at the Lightbox and thought that it would be fun to make my own personal list of 100 important Canadian films, just like the Canada on Screen series.
What did you hope to achieve with your list? With lists from others?
The goal of the series is meant to be positive, and to create a space where folks can share their love and knowledge of Canadian cinema and its history.
I find it interesting that you begin your list of 100 films – actually 123 Canadian films – with Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess. Yes, it was filmed in Quebec City, but I’ve never considered it a Canadian film.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a bold statement to have Alfred Hitchcock inaugurate a list of 100 best Canadian features. But as I write in my introduction to the series, “There will be no restrictions on what media can be included (films, shows etc.) as long as they are either set here, made with Canadian money, or are by born Canadians or citizens.”
Are there prerequisites to who can contribute?
There are no real prerequisites to contribute. It’s an open series and anyone can contribute. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and if any readers want to participate, I would encourage them to get in touch.
What prompted your decision to undergo this massive project of creating a database of Canadian Film?
There are so many hidden gems in the history of Canadian cinema that I hope folks discover a new film that changes how they view Canadian cinema. The generalization that our films are boring and second-rate to American ones is, for the most part, untrue. You just have to know where to look.
With all else going on in your life: finishing up a doctorate, holding a job, maintaining a social life – how much time can you/do you devote to this project?
It’s a fun project, and not too time-consuming. Most of the work comes from bugging folks to contribute or formatting the pieces and writing a brief intro, which usually takes under an hour.
What parameters have to be met for a film to be considered Canadian?
I’m not dogmatic with how others define it for themselves. For example, I think Jean-Marc Vallée is one of the best Canadian filmmakers since Gilles Carle even though, he no longer makes films here.
What kind of reception or resistance do you get from the people you’ve approached to contribute?
The feedback has been positive. Peter Mettler told me he was flattered to see his work show up on a few lists and I’ve got to meet scholars and critics who I think respected the project. Amongst many friends and acquaintances, there have been a lot of jokes about it.
Jokes? What kind of “jokes”? I assume mostly harmless.
Exactly. Stuff like: “Are there even one hundred Canadian films? Are there even one hundred good ones?” The cliché of Canadian films is that they are boring, not as good as American films. And most people haven’t seen any of them. Ask a class of undergrads what’s the most recent Canadian film they’ve seen, and most of them would just shake their head.
“There are so many hidden gems in the history of Canadian cinema… The generalization that our films are boring and second-rate to American ones is, for the most part, untrue.”
The latest count on your blog has around 25 contributors. Are there films or filmmakers who stand out in terms of their title or names popping up more often than others?
I haven’t really analyzed the pieces yet, but I’m always happy to see Don Owen, John Paizs, Matt Johnson, Kazik Radwanski, and Rebeccah Love show up. They’re some of my favourite English Canadian directors.
How will you know the project is complete?
I think I’m expecting a few others lists, but I’m leaving it open in case other folks want to contribute. Hopefully this interview motivates some people.
What do you plan to do with the data?
I plan to put all of the lists into a giant master list, which I think would be cool. And analyze it via Excel to see what stats emerge. This is part of a larger project, which includes from last year a post called Canadian Cinema By Those Who Make It and from the year before an infograph with Marko Balaban.
Davidson admits to being unsure as to what will happen with the project when it’s done. For now, Davidson is considering putting it all together, printing it out, and having a celebration launch at CineCycle. He’s open to suggestions, but it seems that a celebration party is a good place to start.
Want to submit your list of 100 best Canadian films? Get in touch with David at email@example.com.