So we decided to host a screening of our very own to bring some NFB to the masses. It’s all very well and good for us kids enrolled in a Canadian Cinema class to think lofty thoughts about identity, endorsement, and film, but what about our friends, piers, enemies, and well-wishers?
We chose the film Between: Living in the Hyphen by Anne Marie Nakagawa, despite its high school preachiness, because it presented some of the basic philosophies of multiculturalism while leaving many of the issues contained therein ambiguous. As predicted, our viewers responded to the film in many ways, ranging from outright hatred to grumbling acceptance. Our desired effect was achieved however, as Between introduced and problematized some basic notions of multiculturalism while clarifying other facets of this debate.
In the sample of our friends, the film worked to fulfill the mandate of the NFB — everyone had a personal relationship to the ideas presented in some way. Many found it to be representative of the way contemporary Canadians are thinking about multiculturalism and the way we think about being a mixed race person in a settled country, but this was by no means the consensus.
Our friends weren’t the sort of ethnic melange that the film presented us with, but many had ties to the sort of emotions that were being bandied about. Some people who felt that they were often misrepresented in their public life by what they looked like either shared some of the frustrations elucidated in the film, whereas others liked being asked questions about their heritage. Others felt that this sort of celebration/interrogation of cultural/ethnic heritage depended more so on generational and regional placement in Canada. Would the “ah, cool!” about someone’s racial background be heard the same at a university in a big city as well as in a smaller town? We all appreciated that we were a particularly left-leaning (read: biassed) group and that even our opinions were a very limited representation of “what Canadians think”. Another pitfall of our group was the fact that many of us, like many of the talking heads of the film, expressed opinions that were so personal. While in many aspects of identity politics “the personal is the political”, we still found that we had to acknowledge our own oversights and in what contexts we were making these assertions.
We think the conclusion we came to was that “Feeling Canadian” really cannot be defined, because that “feeling” is comprised of everyone’s specific loyalties, some of which may be perceived as far removed from the Great White North. Some may be loyal to Canada, others to another nation, religion, culture, etc., whilst others like to consider themselves a mix. We think it’s probably this reason that it’s so hard for the NFB, or really any other Canadian body, to pin down a way of “representing Canada to Canadians.”
We wondered what Between, as a film made possible by federal money filed through the NFB, was saying about a legitimized governmental notion of Canadian-ness. Obviously, the film falls far short of the goal of defining multiculturalism or mixed heritage. The NFB really seems to like this theme…we’ve seen in Club Native identical sequences of talking heads repeating words and phrases like “MIXED RACE. MULATTO. HYBRID. MIXED” and the like. The very fact that they fund and promote these topics might speak to an underlying anxiety to always define define define in this nebulous nation we call home. Perhaps then the endeavour of the NFB is not to create texts that wholly encompass one concept or idea but moreover to embrace the pluralism of Canada. Are we, as Canadians, satisfied by the pictures the NFB paints of us? Is there some way to reach consensus on these issues as emergent post-colonial multicultural state?
One viewer at our screening noted “there’s this weird tension in Canada about wanting to celebrate multiculturalism alongside a desire to appear whole”. Our goal is to appear Canadian – whether this be through looks or paperwork. Yet, there is no definitive way to link the notion of Canada to one public face. However, as the one visible minority [present] said, “I’ve always felt like I belong”. Between projected this as its hope for the future – that difficulties of multiculturalism would be belayed by acceptance. Many of our screening-goers felt as if this was their experience and aptly represented the tide that multiculturalism in Canada would take in the future.
Upon writing this post however, we were still all left with a bit of a hole in our hearts: if this film can do all the things we asked of it, why is so overlooked? The NFB is a free, national, talented service. It’s easily accesible. It’s often intelligent and always thought-provoking. If it’s all of these things and more, why is it not more popular? Why don’t more people know about it? Why do Canadian Cinema students have to host a screening before any of their friends would know that this resource was out there, crying to be used? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!