In 1970, Canada’s infant film industry wasn’t doing much more than Goin’ Down the Road. Next Wednesday (April 19), National Canadian Film Day pulls focus on just how far we’ve come. Redubbed this year to reflect Canada’s sesquicentennial, NCFD 150 promises to be, in the words of its founders, Reel Canada, “the largest film festival in the world, ever”, with a jaw-dropping 1,700-plus screenings, parties, installations, and other unique events taking place in a coast-to-coast toast to the pictures that move us. And because we’re a country of dirty socialists, every single one of those screenings and events—including a special 20th-anniversary presentation of The Sweet Hereafter at the Vancity Theatre with filmmaker Atom Egoyan in attendance—is completely free.
“It’s always a treat to travel outside of the country and fly that Canadian flag,” says Georgia Straight cover star Jeff Chiba Stearns, fresh from a presentation in Cleveland of his acclaimed 2016 documentary, Mixed Match. “I think Americans look at us and they’re jealous because we have a lot of support for the arts, at least compared to what they have.”
Looking forward to the screening he’ll host at the Vancouver Public Library on NCFD 150, Stearns notes that even with its weighty subject—Mixed Match examines the challenges involved in finding bone-marrow donors for multi-ethnic blood-cancer patients—his film can align with the evolving Canadian experience.
“You can’t walk down the street, especially in Vancouver, without seeing multiethnic kids and interracial marriages everywhere,” he says. “That’s partly why I think a film like Mixed Match is so important for something like National Canadian Film Day, because it really is exploring the changing landscape of Canadian identity. It’s not the same Canada it was 150 years ago.”
For Aubrey Arnason, who joins Stearns on our cover this week, NCFD 150 offers the chance to out-megaphone our neighbour to the south. Her short film “Kindergarten Da Bin Ich Wieder”, directed with Kalyn Miles in 2015 for the Crazy8s short-film competition, is a charming quirkfest that recalls Winnipeg’s brilliant, if under the radar, John Paizs.
“I think we’re not that great at marketing ourselves,” the busy writer-director-actor tells the Straight. “We’re too humble. I think we need to get better at shouting aloud that we’re Canadian. ‘This is my story and I’m going to tell it!’ ”
On the big day, Arnason will be shouting aloud with three other Crazy8s filmmakers aboard a Via Rail train bound for the Interior, where Thompson-Nicola film commissioner Vicci Weller will accompany them on a “Creative Day in Kamloops”.
Indeed, while NCFD 150 brings 30 separate happenings to Vancouver—a vintage Airstream trailer planted in Jack Poole Plaza will treat passersby to shorts by TELUS Storyhive and the NFB, for instance—there are a whopping 225 events in total across the province. In short: National Canadian Film Day seriously intends to excite us about the stories we tell.