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Canuxploitation Runs Wild at Fantasia’s Cinépix Tribute

I was thrilled when I heard that this year’s Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal was planning to celebrate Canadian genre film pioneers John Dunning and André Link, and even moreso when the festival organizers asked me to pack my bags and attend the July 20, 2011 gathering. It was a really fun, heartfelt evening–a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the Cinépix founders, they were toasted by their peers, and it all culminated in a screening of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, the pair’s breakout Anglophone hit that changed the entire direction of not only their own future productions, but Canadian cinema as a whole.

That’s enough CanCon to give anybody Log Driver’s Waltz nightmares for a month, but it didn’t stop there–I squeezed much Canadian cinema goodness out of those five days, a maple-syrup drenched holiday that overflowed with Canadian cult screenings, conversations and meetings. I thought I’d recapture the whirlwind events of the week here while gratuitously name-dropping all the great people I met which is, I’m told, what one usually does on one’s blog.

(All photos courtesy King-Wei Chu)

Maple Syrup Thrills: A Tribute to John Dunning & André Link” was more than just a one-day award ceremony, it is (still!) a full ongoing series of events and film screenings that continues until the end of the festival in early August. But it all started at the actual presentation, where I briefly stumbled through a few thoughts on Cinépix’s Anglo-film history before inviting André and some of his famous “graduates” on stage–producer Don Carmody (THE SURROGATE, CHICAGO), George Mihalka (MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PINBALL SUMMER) and Larry Kent (THE BITTER ASH, YESTERDAYS)–to talk about how they first got involved with the fledgling company.

Me             

The following video, shown at the tribute, features interviews with John (whose could not attend due to health issues) plus Cinépix alumni David Cronenberg and Ivan Reitman, who discussed John and André’s importance as mentors to all the young filmmakers that passed through their offices.

Also during the evening, Denis Héroux and Danielle Ouimet, director and star of the 1969 Québécois classic VALERIE talked about their collaborations (in French).

Later, after the awards were presented to André Link and George Mihalka (who stood in for John), Lynn Lowry came up and reminisced about working on SHIVERS. After the film screened, I hosted a short audience Q&A with Lynn and André.

Lynn Lowry, Andre Link

It was amazing to see SHIVERS play on the big screen in 35mm, but the fest was jam-packed with even more essential classic Canadian screenings, including DEATH WEEKEND, THE VINDICATOR, TOMORROW NEVER COMES and DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS. On July 22 I was lucky enough to introduce ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE SS to a sold-out theatre at midnight and later attended more screenings of Canadian films including the new, Ontario-shot wrestling creature feature MONSTER BRAWL. But perhaps the most memorable was Denys Arcand’s weird labour relations/rape revenge hybrid GINA, which actually had the Cinémathèque québécoise audience gasping during the bloody final reel (reviews forthcoming).

     

But there was more to Montreal than just the Fantasia screeninings–I also made my first visit to the excellent Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine and met the dedicated cinephiles that run it, David Bertrand and Kier-La Janisse (who was also extremely busy behind the scenes on Fantasia and whose name I have been mispronouncing for pretty much forever).

I wanted to experience the theatre, which I’d heard so much about, but also to meet Matthew Rankin, formerly of L’Atelier Nationale du Manitoba. I interviewed Matthew six years ago about rescuing discarded, locally produced Winnipeg cable access programming and commercials but never got a chance to see any of the results until that night, the exceptional and hilarious pastiche KUBASA IN A GLASS.

Apologies for this incoming explosion of name-dropping, but I wanted to not-so-briefly thank the many people I met in Montreal. These film fans, who previously did not know me at all (beyond maybe having read my site a bit or exchanged an email or two), showed me an unbelievable amount of hospitality. Along with the aforementioned people, many of the following kept me out late each night gorging on Cheval Blanc and smoked meat: Co-Festival Director Mitch Davis, fellow Rue Morgue writer Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, Rick Trembles of Motion Picture Purgatory, Donato Totaro from Offscreen.com, passionate John Paizs fan/intern/leg hair removal expert Fritzi Adelman, Esther Splett and Andy Mauro (& wife Hazel) from Dread Central, programmer King-Wei Chu (who kindly supplied me with these photographs), Blue Sunshine intern Ariel Esteban Cayer, Synapse‘s Don May Jr., Fangoria honcho Michael Gingold, MONSTER BRAWL director Jesse T. Cook and THE CORRIDOR actor/writer Josh MacDonald.

It was really great to get to know all these people and to find out what they personally love about Canadian films. The enthusiasm that characterized our conversations is, I hope, the slowly chugging engine that will continue to make the concept of “canuxploitation” an inseparable part of Canada’s ongoing film history.

Mitch Davis, Andre Link, Pierre Corbeil, Kier-La Janisse

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  1. Robert says:

    Great to see the various Cinepix alumni who turned out for the tribute, particularly Danielle Ouimet and Denis Heroux. Was there any discussion of the company’s ownership by Kalvex between 1969 and 1973?

    Kier-La Janisse used to run the annual Cinemuerte festival in Vancouver, which is greatly missed.

    As for GINA – seeing Celine Lomez gunning that Roadrunner down icy back roads in vengeful pursuit of fleeing snowmobiles makes for one of the most awesome scenes in 1970s Canadian cinema. A very cool movie.

    • Canuxploitation! says:

      No, it wasn’t an in depth discussion or anything, just a mostly breezy tribute to Dunning and Link’s ability to pick out talent and make a big impact in Quebec.