Canada can’t at Cannes

Lawrence O’Toole June 2 1980

Canada can’t at Cannes

Lawrence O’Toole June 2 1980

Canada can’t at Cannes


Lawrence O’Toole

High in the sky, above the small speedboat gaining ground upon the beach, were five airplanes hanging in the sultry air of Cannes. The planes, their banners celebrating the completion of Superman II and the imminence of III, kept circling and circling as they had done dutifully for days. The speck of the speedboat beneath them, spiriting its passengers to shore for a screening, was leaving in its wake the Don Juan, a small chartered yacht where, compliments of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), a party of Canadian celebrities, officials and journalists had lunched adrift. As the yacht, now stippled in haze, was left farther and farther behind, a solitary figure on the foredeck shrunk until it vanished—a fitting symbol of the diminished hopes of Canadians at Cannes this year.

In the small town of Cannes itself, where some 30,000 visitors had come to the 33rd Cannes Film Festival to see movies, to sell them and to soak up some sun, disappointment—as obvious as the week-long drizzle—seemed to be the one common denominator. People wandered in desultory fashion, or they paid $5 for a warm cup of coffee and a chair with a view to watch the aimless amblers. Few seemed to care when another plane flew overhead, this time announcing a film called Big Bucks', this was not what they had come for.

But, if the general crowd felt cheated, even more disillusioned was the 400strong Canadian contingent. Most had come to cash in on the blooming state of the Canadian film industry which, having hauled in $160 million in production last year, was reported to be roseate.

Standing on the Don Juan, however, those who hadn’t been directly involved in the making of those movies were unanimous on one point: the bloom was off the rose. With the exception of Claude Jutra’s Surfacing, a strong study of psychosexual anxieties, and John Guillermin’s Mr. Patman, an examination of how insanity is often an emotional and moral option, the product shown at Cannes was either execra-

ble, mediocre or just plain dull; films such as Scoring, Pinball Summer, Double Negative and The Clean-up Squad died a quick death in the mind. The festival had opened with Gilles Carle’s Fantástica, a Franco-Canadian production that was the laughingstock of the first week. Even worse was Out of the Blue, in which Days of Heaven star Linda Manz plays a disaffected teenager who kills her parents. Booed during the festival, the film was financed with Canadian money; its Canadian director had been fired in favor of that superannuated hippie, Dennis Hopper. Not until the last week was it clear whether it was officially Canadian, U.S. or just a film without a country (it was the last). In the meantime, one U.S. viewer, told that the film was not Canadian, commented: “Well, you don’t see Americans giving Hopper money to make his special brand of crap, do you?”

These days, finding film funds seems to be Canada’s greatest cinematic talent. As everyone and his brother knows, the advantage of filming in Canada—a 100-per-cent tax write-off for investors

in a certified Canadian film, with certification depending on a film fulfilling six of 10 Canadian-content points—has created an instant domestic industry. Unfortunately, very little of this footage surfaced at Cannes; the drum rolls overshadowed the show. Even CFDC’s head, Michael McCabe, a colorful and assertive character who had made quite an impression last year with his showbiz élan, was uncharacteristically subdued, perhaps due to last month’s announcement that he would be resigning in June. McCabe’s tenure with the CFDC was largely responsible for the publicity engendered by the Canadian film industry: it put Canada on the movie map, blowing big horns at last year’s festival with a slick “Canada Cannes, and Does” campaign. This year’s “Great Pictures” slogan, however, had them rolling in the aisles. “I don’t sense that the bloom is off the rose,” argues McCabe. “It’s just quieter. Part of what I had to do was cheerleading, but things are going smoothly now. The CFDC did $22 million worth of business last year—we’ve never had anything like that before.”

Aboard the Don Juan, CFDC Chairman Michel Vennat was quick to agree, preferring to view 1980 as a “period of stabilization. I don’t expect to see any breakthrough—we’re just moving right along. Certainly there’s room for improvement. But the fact that Fantástica opened the festival speaks much in our favor.” (The word, however, was that festival chief Gilles Jacob had disregarded the Canadian preselection committee, deciding upon Fantástica on his own. Fantástica is a Gaumont production. Gaumont, almost single-handedly responsible for saving the French film industry recently, had 17 films in competition at Cannes this year.)

In the end, Canada was sent home almost empty-handed, retaining only its clichéd status by receiving a jury prize for the National Film Board’s short, The Performer. The jury, headed by Kirk Douglas and including Jeanne Moreau and former CFDC chief Michael Spencer, awarded its grand prize, the Palme d’Or, to joint winners: Japan’s Akira Kurosawa film Kagemusha, a war story set in feudal Japan, and Bob Fosse’s musical, All That Jazz. Michel Piccoli and Anouk Aimée took the best

actor and actress awards for their performances as brother and sister in Italian director Marco Bellocchio’s Leap Into the Void. The Terrace, a social comedy also from Italy, won the best screenplay award, Alain Resnais’ Mon Oncle d Amérique won the special jury prize and Poland’s Kryzstof Zanussi was named best director for Constans. Seaside Woman, produced by Linda McCartney of the rock group Wings, shared the short-subject award with the NFB film. As usual, the awards were not so much political as diplomatic, making sure that every part of the globe went home with a citation.

The real losers in the Canadian film scam, however, were the actors and actresses who were handed plum roles and

‘Mr. Patman’ stars James Coburn and Kate Nelligan (above); R. H. Thomson in ‘Surfacing’ (right); Jennifer Dale: a smart starlet

then were never seen, or worse, were handed the crumbs of Hollywood North. The lone figure on the foredeck of the Don Juan was Andrée Pelletier, one of Canada’s finest actresses, who had come to Cannes to lend some visibility and support to Micheline Lanctôt’s The Handyman. Depressed about the hype, stranded in the town of quick smiles, she confessed, “There are a lot of things I don’t want to do to get a part—I’ve done all that before. They don’t want anti-heroines up on the screen or in real life.” With only one English-language film to her credit—the wimpy MarieAnne in which she gives a decidedly unwimpy performance—Pelletier has

been passed over in favor of alleged stars from the U.S. As for Marie-Anne, it’s just one more Canadian-made, taxpayer-financed film that hasn’t been seen outsideWestern Canada and that,

three years after

its making, is just now being sold in the big marketplace.

If Pelletier can find any comfort, it might be in the fact that the country’s finest actress, Kate Reid, is not faring much better, with film appearances only slightly larger than cameos; in a dreadful piece of drivel such as Double Negative you

can almost feel her contempt for the role. The film, another David Perlmutter special (he gave us Nothing Personal with Suzanne Somers), features Michael Sarrazin—a Canadian star whose career has gone to the dogs in Hollywood. The producers, it seems, are mistaking Canadian passports with Canadian identities. Montreal producer Robert Lantos made the grand claim that he was “building up o our own stars, writers and directors”; g the stars of his movies have been Tom ë Berenger, Karen Black, Lee Majors and $ Robert Mitchum—all well-known Ca2 nadians. Jennifer Dale, one Lantos pro-

Jurors Moreau and Douglas (top); winner McCartney with husband Paul: weeding out worms who brand themselves messiahs

tegée who is a bona fide Canadian, spent her days being shunted between the Lantos yacht and the Don Juan and behaving as a smart starlet should. She was being sold in much the same fashion as the whole Canadian industrybefore anyone could see the product.

One distinction that Canada shares with no other country, in fact, is that its producers, not its actors or directors, are the stars: the Bill Marshalls (Outrageous, Mr. Patman), Garth Drabinskys (The Silent Partner, The Changeling), the Robert Coopers (Running, Power Play)—the money men. They are the names of the Canadian film industry, in the case of Marshall and Drabinsky perhaps deservedly so, since their track records show some taste and thought. But Cooper’s Power Play and Lantos’ Agency, hyped and made in Canada some time ago, have yet to show their faces. It was indicative of the notso-brazen mood displayed in Cannes this year that Cooper, in a luncheon speech announcing eight new projects, said that these movies would be “real” and “not just taking advantage of the tax breaks in Canada.”

Apologies of this kind have become the norm in a country where a fictitious name can be used on a screenplay to get certification, and where one especially incompetent producer recently sent his completed film by air freight to Los Angeles without making a copy of it. Producer Mario Kassar of Carolco, a distribution company that handles Canadian films, is brazen about his relationship to Canada, crowing about the $50 million worth of films Carolco has to sell, including Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid, Babe, The Last Chase and Kidnapping of the President. “After we had invested in Silent Partner there seemed to be a lot of Canadian money available and a lot of tax breaks, which interests us. It seemed logical for us to continue in Canada, especially since these films are not particularly Canadian.” Kas-

sar’s product, however, did not impress one American buyer in Cannes who, having sat through a 20-minute product reel of the four movies, announced, “God, all of this is pure shit.” Actor-writer Gordon Pinsent is almost despairing of the Canadian industry: “We don’t even have a good name in Hollywood right now. We’ve got to be landlords, not the tenants.... I get the feeling that I’ve been walking around here an awfully long time with a wonderfully expensive knitted sweater with a maple leaf on it. But somebody’s got the goddam string and it’s being unravelled.”

In response to the suggestion that Canada is being robbed blind by the carpetbaggers, McCabe replied: “Sure, there are people out there who are crooks.” Along the Croisette in Cannes this may be common knowledge, but those people have not been fingered and probably won’t be until the government agencies dealing with film in Canada finger them. McCabe’s own valedictory is short and sweet: “If I had been a private investor, I wouldn’t have backed the number of films the CFDC did, but the CFDC is in the development business and therefore had to take more chances. If I had stayed on, I would have spent more money on new directors and writers. The Peter Carters [Jack London’s Klondike Fever] and the Alvin Rakoffs [Death Ship and City on Fire,

which was hooted in the screening rooms last year in Cannes] don’t work out in the end. And do we have to maintain this size of operation in Cannes?”

This year’s activities suggest that a cutback would be the proper move next year: Marshall drummed up a lot of interest in his two movies—Mr. Patman and Circle of Two (which is unexciting but competent, a good commercial bet and not an embarrassment)—by being secretive about them and by being cleverly fussy about who was allowed in to see them.

McCabe’s valedictory, however, is at odds with the newly revamped CFDC policy—and his former stance—which says it will give preference to producers with an established track record. Though Vennat says, somewhat in contradiction, that the CFDC will be there “for the new people, those who can show promise,” the corporation, in trying to be stricter, may well wipe out the options for the untried but talented.

Weeding out the worms who are destroying the Canadian film industry (while branding themselves messiahs) doesn’t mean that Canadian movies should be honest, artful and never make a cent. Surfacing has recouped half of its $2.4-million budget with foreign sales at the festival and Marshall claims his two films have sold quite successfully. Still, it’s an uphill battle. Incredible as it might seem, Hopper’s Out of the Blue, which should be buried in a pigsty, was lobbied for by several members of the Canadian preselection committee for the Cannes Festival, being preferred to Mr. Patman. Marshall, understandably upset, said, “It’s the last time I’ll ever show a picture to a preselection committee again. Imagine paying $50,000 to have those bozos and bureaucrats go to screening rooms.”

In the final days of the festival, when all that was left was time to dissect this disappointing showing, David Overbey, a Paris-based critic (Paris Metro) and programmer for Toronto’s Festival of Festivals, lamented the outcome: “In many ways the Canadian cinema now is far less interesting, vital and original than it was five or six years ago. Judging from what was shown at Cannes this year Canadians are being charged to make fools of themselves before the international cultural community.” It was a tortuous finale to a festival where one of the first sights to be seen this year was a headline in one of the magazines: CANADIAN TAX SHELTERS MEAN BIG MOVIE BUSINESS. At the end of the short article extolling the gold rush to Canada, the new Klondike fever, came the codicil: “The only problem in the picture is, due to the boom, there is an increase of mediocre films that do not make it to the market.” And that was written before the festival.