Patrice James is a filmmaker and the Executive Director for the Independent Filmmakers’s Co-operative in Ottawa (IFCO). The following text is an essay about the film selection she made on VUCAVU based on a multicultural theme which she calls IMAGES-IN-NATION: The True North. James’ selection looks at ideas about Canadianness and how this can be interpreted by both newcomers and Canadians alike. 

 

 

 

Patrice James, Filmmaker

"IMAGES-IN-NATION: The True North"
Film selection and essay by Patrice James

Patrice James holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Film Studies from Carleton University. Ms. James is presently the Executive Director of the Independent Filmmakers Co-operative of Ottawa Inc. (IFCO). She is herself a practicing filmmaker with approximately eight film credits to date. Ms. James has contributed to the cultural life in Ottawa for nearly 20 years, as a strong advocate for the media arts both locally and at the national level, currently serving on the Board of Directors of both the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA), and the Media Arts Network of Ontario (MANO). Patrice James was one of three finalists in 2012 vying to receive Ottawa’s top annual arts prize; the Victor Tolgesy Award, which is given annually to an individual who has “contributed substantially” to culture in Ottawa. Ms. James continues to live and work in Ottawa.

IMAGES-IN-NATION: The True North

I was very excited when I was approached to create a selection of films for VUCAVU; films which I felt would lend a more authentic appreciation of the “Canadian” experience, for so many of us who are ‘other.’

I am myself a naturalized Canadian citizen, having immigrated to Canada nearly twenty-nine years ago. I remember when first I arrived in Ottawa in 1988; I was about sixteen years old, and I really didn’t have any real understanding about Canadian society, or Canadian culture? After all; it was my mother's decision to relocate here. Really the only images I had of Canada were those of white men on horses wearing those weirdly shaped hats – (Mounties & campaign hats/forage caps), beavers (large, primarily nocturnal, semiaquatic rodents), and episodes of The Beachcombers and The Littlest Hobo. I much preferred The Littlest Hobo to Lassie by the way; Hobo didn’t need nearly as much validation as Lassie, and I really appreciated his sense of independence. I didn’t realize until much later on, just how historically, culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse Canada is. I didn’t realize that Canada is really a land of immigrants, a land of many voices and experiences. Canada is not a homogeneous nation; its peoples’ are as contrastive as its landscapes.   

There is no doubt in my mind that Canada is one of the greatest nations on earth, and I’m certain that for so many newcomers this perception is also true. I’m also, however, appreciative of the fact that like myself many newcomers may not have a really clear ‘image’ of Canada; they might imagine Canada to be all about polar bears, boring cities, and long cold winters. They may also imagine Canada to be only inhabited by peoples of European descent. I wanted to create a VUCAVU playlist for newcomers that would somehow better reflect the true north.

This is why I chose Nadine Valcin’s experimental documentary fiction short Whitewash (an examination of slavery in Canada) which sheds light on a not so well known aspect of Canada’s dubious charitable history. This quietly poetic piece delineates the history of slavery on Prince Edward Island, told through a rich textured voice-over manifested on the bodies and faces of nine generations of female descendants. “It outlines how the descendants have assimilated into the general population to the point of quasi invisibility and how that process parallels the collective amnesia about Canada’s history of slavery” (Nadine Valcin, Whitewash synopsis, Vimeo). 

I didn’t realize until much later on, just how historically, culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse Canada is. I didn’t realize that Canada is really a land of immigrants, a land of many voices and experiences.
Still image from "Legend of the Storm", Roxann Whitebean

Still image from "Legend of the Storm", Roxann Whitebean, 2015, Winnipeg Film Group

I didn’t realize how absent indigenous bodies, lives, histories were from my understanding of Canadian society, until I went to University and took a Human Rights course. It is for this reason that I felt it imperative to include Legend of the Storm on my playlist, to present a somewhat unvarnished look at the lived experience of certain of Canada’s First Peoples.

To do this, I selected Roxann Whitebean’s narrative short fiction movie, Legend of the Storm, which focuses on the coming of age of a young Mohawk girl as she learns how to become tough when her community is suddenly besieged by unexpected violence. This poignant movie underscores the brevity of innocence. What begins as a beautiful birthday celebration amongst family and friends abruptly turns into an inexplicably dark non-celebratory occasion. Little girls must stay inside, where once they ran carefree; gunshots pierce the air; parents struggle to retain a sense of forced normalcy, all the while knowing that their community is forever stained, changed. Yes; Canada too, has had a history of ‘war.’ 

The next film, Traces Of Absence by filmmaker Tamara Vukov really resonated with me. The various themes of “cultural displacement, assimilation, and memory” explored in Traces Of Absence elicited an overwhelming sense of familiarity in me. This beautiful Super 8mm short film uses painting, live footage, photographs, and home movie footage, all connected by an introspective voice-over and a hauntingly melodic audio track. This film evokes so much nostalgia for places, people, and experiences past, and it really exemplifies how much, ‘shared experiences’ transcends cultural and geographical social markers. 

 

...it really exemplifies how much, ‘shared experiences’ transcends cultural and geographical social markers.
Still image from "Taxi for Two", Dan Popa, 2012, Les Films du 3 Mars

Still image from "Taxi for Two", Dan Popa, 2012, Les Films du 3 Mars

I then discovered another Super 8mm gem called Little Portugal; a short film created by Pedro Ferreira that perpetuates a classic belief held by so many; in Canada, the City of Toronto and beyond; that Canada is quintessentially ‘multicultural’. Little Portugal takes the viewer on a candid pictorial tour of the Little Portugal neighbourhood located on Dundas Street West in Toronto. As we follow the camera around the neighbourhood, peaking into the lives of its inhabitants, businesses, and passersby etcetera; we’re guided by a rather curious audio track, which is an actual recording of a government of Canada attendant from Immigration and Citizenship Canada, dictating information on how to acquire a Canadian work permit. 

Since we’re taking a tour in a well known Canadian city, let’s continue shall we? Dan Popa’s beautifully shot experimental documentary, Taxi for Two, follows two Montréal taxicab drivers - Louis Mémeil (Haiti) and Jamel Akkouche (Algeria) as they drive around the city. This piece has everything; humanity, soul, heart, survival, joy, and so many elements of life interwoven into its mise en scène. The two men afford us enlightened insight about appreciating life, as they describe the trials and tribulations inherent to their chosen profession. The multi-layered imagery; superimpositions that blend Montréal’s beautiful architecture, and cityscape with the images of Louis and Jamel as they speak their truths in beautiful elegant French, encourages a type of camaraderie with both men. To me, the stories of these men, their lives, are again symbolic of a shared human experience.  

Another illuminating documentary which I feel genuinely represents a completely uniquely Canadian story, and one which I know will be especially relatable to a newcomer audience, is Fernando Dalayoan’s documentary Manila Road. In this documentary, Winnipeg’s Filipino community is featured. The director uses animation, live and home movie footage, and photographs to delineate the experiences of himself, his family, other members of this community as well as Filipino newcomers to the City of Winnipeg. Filipinos have significantly contributed to both the cultural and economic foundation of Winnipeg, from Manila Road to Dr. Jose Rizal Way; Filipinos have been, and are an integral part of Manitoban society and community. And even though they have been settled in Winnipeg for nearly 60 years; it appears that many Filipinos though integrated, haven’t yet assimilated. This should be very inspiring for newcomers to Canada, because it signifies the potential for the Canadian experience to be somewhat pluralistic.

This should be very inspiring for newcomers to Canada, because it signifies the potential for the Canadian experience to be somewhat pluralistic.
Still image from "Manila Road", Fernando Dalayoan

Still image from "Manila Road", Fernando Dalayoan, 2012, Video Pool

The final selection on my playlist is Walter Dyck’s documentary short, Pelmeny.  I have to admit, I was immediately excited by the title of this documentary, as I happen to think ‘pelmeny’ is delicious! Pelmeny is defined as “a Siberian dish of small pockets of dough filled with seasoned, minced beef, lamb, or pork and served boiled, fried, or in a soup” (dictionary.com). I discovered this delicious dumpling type delicacy at the home of a Russian friend, and I’ve been ‘hooked’ ever since. I was enchanted by Dyck’s story of 77 year old Tamara, her friends, and her husband Alexander, and very eager to watch her fill the dough for the pelmeny with the unidentifiable minced meat. This was such a heartwarming piece, and one which I wholeheartedly believe, represents the true north.  

My playlist is made up of multifarious films and videos; all uniquely distinct, but imbued with parallel realities, experiences. As a filmmaker myself; I completely understand and realize the importance of having people be able to view and appreciate films, videos, paintings, music, art, which are rooted in their own cultural ethos. It is for this reason that I was both conscientious and methodical in selecting the titles I’ve included on the playlist. I enjoyed having an opportunity to access some exceptionally enlightening media art. These works should be seen by newcomers and ‘not-so-newcomers’ as well, because I am quite certain that there are many Canadians who haven’t necessarily been exposed to the real images-in-nation or to an authentic true north. The more we see of others; the more we can better understand ourselves, and in an ever growing global atmosphere infected by xenophobic rhetoric and acts which promote intolerance in place of acceptance; it’s very important to ensure that we always seek out opportunities to re-emphasize our ‘shared humanity.’ 

...I am quite certain that there are many Canadians who haven’t necessarily been exposed to the real "images-in-nation" or to an authentic "true north".
Still image from "Little Portugal", Pedro Ferreira, 2014, Video Out

Still image from "Little Portugal", Pedro Ferreira, 2014, Video Out