Recognizing the importance of genre in the success of Hollywood cinema, many Canadian filmmakers sought to adapt American genres to the Canadian situation.
During the 1970s, Quebec filmmakers were subject to strong commercial pressures to make films in English. In marked contrast, some directors made understated French-language films depicting human relationships in a domestic context without much drama or action.
Even if the screen is small, Canadian films are now being shown and are being seen by more people than ever before. Nevertheless, the economic basis of Canadian cinema remains precarious, and the problems of cultural identity are still unresolved, as they are in the nation itself. For contemporary Canadian filmmakers, questions of cultural and national identity merge into issues of ethnic, racial and gender identity in the context of a media environment saturated in competing and contradictory images.
Canadian filmmakers also continue to make genre films. In the 1980s, two films used the crime genre to reflect on the cultural tensions in Quebec.
Don McKellar’s Last Night: The Canadian film distinguishes itself by resolutely avoiding all forms of spectacle and heroic action: it eschews special effects, offers no explanation for the imminent catastrophe, and nobody even suggests the possibility of averting it. Instead, the characters wander the streets of Toronto caught between their old routines and the desire to experience something significant before the end.
Egoyan’s films are centrally concerned with the ways in which we use images in an effort to fix our identities. Egoyan draws on his own Armenian background to develop ironic and moving stories about he erosion of ethnic roots in modern urban environments.
The work of all these directors forms part of a trend in contemporary Canadian cinema that is far removed from the documentary tradition. Like the direct cinema films, these films depict characters who feel detached from their environment and are searching for a sense of cultural identity. Now, however, the search often involves the immersion in imaginary worlds and sexual experimentation. As a result, Canadian films have gained a reputation for “weird sex” and grotesque imagery that gives them a niche in the international media market and generates some much-needed publicity.
Although gender remains a key aspect of identity issues in Canadian cinema, ethnic and racial identities have also been added to the mix. The regional diversity of English-Canadian cinema has recently broadened even further to take in the multicultural dimension of Canadian culture.
The presence of such diasporic groups has opened Canadian culture to new influences and pressures, and they have begun to have a major impact on Canadian cinema.
The situation in Quebec is rather different because the Quebecois identity has been so tied to the French language and to Quebec’s history that immigrants and ethnic communities seem to be excluded by definition.
Diasporic Cinema: Films made by members of communities founded by exiles or immigrants displaced from their homelands. These films interact with the tradition of national cinemas in which they are made but often share themes, motifs and actors with films made by the same Diasporic groups elsewhere.