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Blue Sunset: A Q&A With Programmers Dave Bertrand and Kier-La Janisse

After just two years, Montreal’s premiere screening space Blue Sunshine will officially dim its 16mm projector bulb on May 18, 2012. More than just a screening venue with some of the most eclectic cult programming this side of the border, co-founders Dave Bertrand and Kier-La Janisse ‘s focus on all strains of Canada’s filmmaking past made Blue Sunshine one of the best places to catch everything from pioneering Montreal gay classics of the 1970s to vintage local ephemera, forgotten maple syrup porn and just plain ol’ sleazy tax shelter trash.

It was during last year’s Fantasia Festival that I met Dave and Kier-La (in the flesh, anyways) and made my first visit to Blue Sunshine; they subsequently invited me back in November to deliver a lecture on Canadian horror for the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies program hosted there. During both visits, it was clear to me that (amongst all the other fantastic programming) the BS co-founders’ support and understanding of Canadian films of the last few decades was more sophisticated than anything happening in other cities, including venue-rich Toronto. While maybe inevitable, the closing of Blue Sunshine isn’t just a loss for local cinephiles, but also for anyone who cares about Canada’s film history, and knows why it’s important to keep these films unspooling in front of screens.

In advance of Blue Sunshine’s final Canadian screening on May 10, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN… MR. LEONARD COHEN, we talked to Dave and Kier-La about why Blue Sunshine had to end, memories about some of his highlights of the last two years and their feelings on audience attitudes towards Canadian filmmaking.

First off, why did you decide to end Blue Sunshine? Oh why, God, why?

DB: Oh God! Well, when Kier-La and I set out to attempt this crazy experiment – that is, starting our own micro-cinema in a city neither of us have ever lived in, and with no financial backing to speak of – a two-year lease was about the maximum we thought we could make it work. Our lease expires at the end of May, and ever since we opened in June 2010, we’ve learned that, though this business is creatively rewarding on so many levels, financially, it just doesn’t work. Despite keeping our film licensing and rental costs to a minimum, the cost of the rent a commercial space on overpriced Boul. St-Laurent, excessive utilities rates, and our numerous attempts to legitimize the business with the city of Montreal, all pricey and ultimately unsuccessful – even when we did really well, attendance-wise, we lost money. On top of that, we’re really, really tired and our mental health is unraveling. But hey, it’s a miracle we made it last two years, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with all we’ve accomplished! We’ve left a big dent on the Montreal film world. I’m honoured that this was a part of my life.

Blue Sunshine has always featured a healthy amount of Canadian films. Why was it so important to Blue Sunshine to showcase local movies?

KJ: Honestly I don’t feel we showed enough local movies! But because we often played repertory titles, we’re able to have some perspective on how these films are relevant to our development, individually and as a country. Most Canadians, when they talk about Canadian films, tend to characterize them as middling and bland or just trying to ape American films. It’s only with some distance that you can really see that there’s a strong identity there. It wasn’t until I lived in Texas that I started to appreciate Canadian cinema really. Well, I always liked the tax shelter flicks but that was because Canadian industry seemed so embarrassed by them and so it was fun to side with the underdog. But once I moved to Texas I started to really see Canadian cinema on the whole as unique and worth fighting to preserve. There are things about the films that will be especially funny or poignant to Canadians in whatever region the film is from — specifically films made in Quebec. The best thing about moving to Montreal was discovering how much amazing French-Canadian cinema there is that no one talks about in the rest of Canada. And it is electrifying to sit in a room full of Francophones who are watching a movie that’s engrained in their culture – like the time we showed APRES SKI, and I couldn’t even understand the dialogue, but I was just feeding off the energy in the room. We would have showed way more of these films but the Cinematheque kind of had it covered.

DB: Most Canadian cinema still remains an untapped resource – the Canadian public of non-film professionals remains largely oblivious to their own cinema history, mostly due to lack of exposure and the enormous weight of Hollywood. Personally, it gives me great pleasure to dig out some obscurity from the tax shelter era and toss it up to an unsuspecting audience. As Kier-La says, being Anglophone outsiders, it was a shocker to realize just how much film history there is in Quebec that we knew NOTHING about, and are only still just scratching the surface of. I can say from experience that screening a Montreal-based film is ALWAYS a draw — here, like anywhere, people love to see their own neighbourhood and history up on the screen. So why not play something with a local connection, which excites a crowd and brings in greater numbers, and is an unheralded gem to boot?

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They Came From Within London — A Q&A with SHIVERS Programmer Vince D’Amato

Canada is set to invade the UK later this month in a brand new screening series that will shine a spotlight on one of the more neglected aspects of Canadian horror, the independently produced films of the 1990s. “The Influence of the Tax Shelter Films”, an all day movie marathon curated by Shivers,  a new London-based film society. In anticipation of their upcoming screening on May 20, 2012 at The Roxy Bar and Screen, we caught up with one of Shivers’ co-founders, Vancouver-based film fanatic Vince D’Amato, to talk about the films Shivers has selected, the group’s plans to expand back home and why Canadian genre films matter.

How did you get the idea to start the Shivers film society?

Justin, a friend of mine who runs the Filmbar 70 film club in London, came up with the idea of screening a series of Canadian films, like a mini-festival. We thought about programming and, after a couple of months, decided to form Shivers as a one-time event. However, after putting all that work into scheduling and designing ,we discovered a lot more interest in this idea than we’d initially anticipated, so we decided to take it even further.

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CanFilm Five: Toronto Filmmaker Ryan Noel

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Ryan Noel is a Toronto-based filmmaker and owner of Retro Films Entertainment. Building upon the success of his award winning gangster mockumentary THE NOTORIOUS NEWMAN BROTHERS, Ryan is currently crowdfunding his latest dark comedy web series MANUEL LABOUR through Kickstarter about the misadventures of a pair of beer-swilling junk collectors. For this installment of CanFilm Five, Ryan offers up his top five trashiest characters in Canuxploitation film:

For most, the 1980s were a creative rollercoaster. Every high was accompanied by a seemingly lower low and Hollywood was no exception. This was the decade that gave birth to the sequel, saw Coca-Cola acquire Columbia, capitalized on movie merchandising and spawned the VHS revolution.

Yet for me there was no greater high than the comedy films of the 1980s, and it was Canadian heavyweights such as John Candy, Rick Moranis and Dan Aykroyd who were dominating the silver screen with their unique sense of Northern humour.For an aspiring filmmaker like myself, growing up in Toronto in the ‘80s provided the perfect blend of patriotism and inspiration and allowed me to believe that I could one day represent this great nation’s twisted sense of humour. So in light of my trashy new web series MANUEL LABOUR, here’s my top 5 trashiest characters in Canadian cinema:

5. Bob and Doug McKenzie, STRANGE BREW
This film is a rite of passage for any Canadian filmmaker and one that I can’t seem to escape. Perhaps it’s because I live a few blocks away from the “Elsinore Brewery” or the fact that the film gets funnier and more ridiculous upon every viewing. Whatever the reason, Bob and Doug McKenzie are two hosers that are definitely trashy enough to make the top 5.

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Upcoming Screenings: May 2012

While many of us discovered Canuxploitation films through late night TV screenings and VHS rentals, there’s still something special about catching a locally produced B-movie classic in the theatre alongside other Canadian film fans. Here’s our monthly update featuring upcoming classic Canadian cinema screenings. Want your screening listed? Contact us.

STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM — 16mm
May 4, 8pm
Blue Sunshine, Montreal
The classic Italo-Montreal ’70s co-prodcution features gritty locations, thrilling car chases and lots of sleazy cop action. More info here.

DEADEN / $LASHERS / THE HARD CUT / VIDEODROME
May 20, 3pm-11pm
Roxy Bar and Screen, London, U.K.
Three indie horror films plus an early Cronenberg masterpiece–show up for one or stay all day for this Canadian horror quadruple bill from SHIVERS UK, the first in a series of screenings titled “The Influence of the Canadian Tax Shelter Films”.

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Cathode Ray Mission: OVIDE AND THE GANG (1987-88)

While we here at Canuxploitation have always been firmly focused on theatrical tax shelter oddities and straight-to-video schlock, we’ve always had a soft spot for our film industry’s small screen cousin, the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television.  That’s why we’re introducing CATHODE RAY MISSION, a new column by CanTV expert Cameron Archer, whose boob tube scribblings have appeared on sites including TV, eh? , Canadian Animation Resources and other assorted publications (including his own blog). Each entry of CATHODE RAY MISSION will highlight some of Canadian television’s more offbeat offerings, featuring video, commentary and lots of bad memories dredged up from the bottom of your consciousness.

OVIDE AND THE GANG (1987-88), like many Canadian animated television cartoons of its era, was shuttered to weekend television’s non-peak hours during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unlike Cookie Jar and Nelvana, who can easily fling C.L.Y.D.E., MY PET MONSTER, and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN on This TV, qubo and/or Teletoon Retro, CinéGroupe’s productions are harder to come by in reruns.

Maybe that’s just as well. OVIDE AND THE GANG (LA BANDE À OVIDE in French-speaking areas, like Quebec) — was an odd platypus. The Canada/Belgium co-production was created by Belgian cartoonist Bernard Godisiabois, better known by his pseudonym Godi, and fellow Belgian Nicolas Broca. Nic Broca, a cartoonist and animator, helped develop 1980s Hanna-Barbera/SEPP cartoon property, THE SNORKS.

The Basic Formula
A typical OVIDE AND THE GANG episode features Ovide, a blue platypus in a green hat. Ovide and his friends – Saffron the fatter yellow platypus/cook, Groaner the white toucan/pun-lover, and Polo the red lizard/janitor–live in Paradise, an ersatz Australia. Ovide’s main enemy is Cy Sly, the purple python who wants to take over Paradise for…greed’s sake, I suppose. Cy’s motives are never quite clear.

Addle-brained henchman Bobo hangs around with Cy, calling Cy “boss.” Wikipedia identifies Bobo as a Keel-billed toucan, though I have my doubts. Koala versions of the three wise monkeys, named Doe, Rae, and Mi in the English dub (Ko, A and La in the French dub), appear on the show sometimes. Literal woodworm Woody pisses Polo enough for Polo to futilely chase after it. Later episodes establish Matilda, a boomerang-wielding kangaroo.

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