San Francisco’s Opera Plaza Cinema buzzed last Thursday night with some serious comedic star power and the sound of Canadians laughing at, well, themselves. The Moose partnered with the UC Berkeley Canadian Studies Program to screen Being Canadian, a documentary that explores the key questions we all want to know about Canada, including what Canada’s national food should be, why Canadians always feel the need to point out other Canadians, and why we’re so insecure about our nationality.
A screening the previous day at Berkeley packed the Canadian Studies seminar room, and feedback from the event was so positive that the Berkeley Canadian Students Association (the “CSeh”) has asked for an encore presentation.
Writers / producers Rob Cohen and Colin Gray attended both screenings and talked in the Q&A that followed the film about their journey to produce it, eight years in the making, what it means to them to be Canadian, and how they believe Canada is having a moment.
On Canadian celebrities
Rob spoke about Canada’s wealth of comedic talent and how it inspired his own career. A comedy writer for TV and film, Rob has worked with Mike Meyers, Ben Stiller, Kathy Griffin, and numerous others over a career spanning 20 years in Hollywood.
We found out that most Canadian celebrities would return to Canada in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the winters, but that ordinary Canadians think “making it” means moving permanently to the US. We discovered that Russell Peters thinks O Canada should be remixed to sound more like Loverboy. And we learned that Alex Trebek’s house is decked out in mostly beige, with a few surprising sculptures, and that he likes to wear pink crew neck sweaters in his down time. Who knew?
On the viability of Canadian-made productions
After an extended sequence in the film about how Canadian TV used to be immediately identifiable from its awful production values (“as though someone forgot to turn the lights on”) and a full-blown inquiry into why Beachcombers was ever popular (let alone for 20 years!) we also talked about whether Canada’s homegrown film and TV industry is improving. Rob spoke passionately about the high quality work going on in Canada, but opposed the government’s heavy involvement, saying that Canadian productions should be forced to compete on their own merits internationally without being forced to be a certain amount “Canadian” to get support. Both filmmakers were also bullish on Canadian cities, so long stand-ins for American equivalents, getting the spotlight to be themselves in the near future. Their favourite movie set in Canada? No, hesitation: “Strange Brew!” they both said at once. No kidding!
No longer a cultural cringe?
Colin recalled how as a ten-year-old in Ottawa he was asked to write an essay about the insecurity of Canadians compared with others around the world, and how outdated that concept seems now. To a chorus of nodding heads in the audience, he suggested that, particularly with the recent presidential election, Canada has been seen as a beacon of acceptance and progressivism. Both Rob and Colin stressed that the film is by no means anti-American, but Canada does come across — as it has for many around the world recently — in a positive, inclusive light, particularly after the election of Trudeau in October.
One audience member asked if the filmmakers thought that the inferiority complex was waning with the younger generation. Both Rob and Colin said that yes, it was, and being replaced by a sense of pride as Canadians themselves realize just how much they have to be proud of.
What’s the next project?
The Being Canadian toboggan slides on, with more film festivals and promotions coming up. In other, non-Canadian projects, Rob is writing a new comedy series for Netflix which stars comedian Maria Bamford and is inspired by her life. Colin is producing a documentary about inequality in the United States centred on the upcoming presidential election, and how it is felt in the richest and poorest zip codes in the country.
We look forward to catching up with them again soon.
Find out more information about Being Canadian and where to see it here. Chesterfield Chats is a speaker series hosted by the Moose that features people, stories and perspectives that are relevant to Bay Area Canadians. Find out about all Digital Moose Lounge events here.