Article

Canadian Cinema

Alanna Thain

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0014
Canadian Cinema

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Canadian cinema began with the June 1896 screenings of the Lumière Cinematograph in Montreal. Early cinema was marked by an uneven balance between Canadian pioneers—for example, Nell Shipman, actress, director, producer, and writer of hits such as Back to God’s Country; or Léo-Ernest Ouimet, producer of hundreds of short films and founder of one of the world’s first motion picture theaters—and the dominance of production and distribution by foreign interests, above all American. The “quota quickies” of the 1930s, American films shot in Canada with no substantive Canadian content, and the Canadian Cooperation Agreement, in which the government agreed to refrain from developing a feature film industry in exchange for Canadian-based American productions, hamstrung an emerging indigenous industry. In 1939, John Grierson founded the National Film Board of Canada, a major center for film production, in particular animation and documentary. There, in the late 1950s, filmmakers like Michel Brault and Gilles Groulx launched the “cinéma direct” movement, a major influence on both documentary worldwide and the realist aesthetic and hybrid form of fiction film in Canada. In 1967, the Canadian Film Development Corporation (later Telefilm) was launched to provide funding for Canadian feature-film production. The films of “cultural value” it produced went largely unwatched by the Canadian public, however, and the absence of a substantial national audience for Canadian cinema (with the exception of Quebec) remains a challenge. The “tax shelter films” of the 1970s took advantage of changes in film funding opportunities and relaxed censorship laws to produce commercial genre films (“Canuxploitation”), an uneasy counterpart to the auteurist cinema generally associated with Canadian film. The 1980s saw the emergence of the Ontario New Wave and international successes like Denis Arcand’s Decline of the American Empire. Increasingly, Canadian films began to tell stories reflecting the diversity of Canadian experiences beyond the “two nations” of English Canada and Quebec, while Quebec cinema has experienced continued growth and popular success and is now considered on its own terms. Today, First Nations filmmaking has embraced the potential of digital cinema to tell ancient stories in new forms, and “Hollywood North” (large-scale American production in Canada) has both challenged and developed Canadian production. A diverse and often-exciting body of work, Canadian cinema has often been a minor player in its own national context, and questions of the relation between cinema and Canadian nationality have dominated film studies in Canada.

Article.  17120 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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