The Hockey Sweater

Though it’s not actually a film about Christmas, I’ve always associated Sheldon Cohen’s “The Sweater” with the holiday season, maybe because it evokes all of the bittersweet feelings that come with receiving an eagerly-awaited gift, only to discover that it isn’t quite what you wanted. It’s also probably the most quintessentially hivernal of all the […]

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The Ethics of Urban Documentary

Vancouver is many things, but perhaps most of all it is Terminal City, a place to which people escape. Movie stars and Cantopop celebrities flee there to escape the stress of their lives in Hollywood and Hong Kong; the less affluent find in Vancouver a place to get away from the constraints and conventions of […]

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Trafficopter, a 1972 National Film Board documentary by Barrie Howells, isn’t especially insightful, but it is certainly stylish. Following the traffic reporter for a Montreal radio station as he soars above the morning rush hour in a small helicopter, it gazes down at a miniature city caught up in the interminable grind of daily commerce. […]

Montreal by Night

The National Film Board of Canada has officially launched its new website, which includes hundreds of NFB documentaries, animations and shorts, including some that are iconic (The Sweater, which I must have seen at least half a dozen times in school) and others that have long been forgotten (like Paul Tomkowicz, Switchman, which I wrote […]

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The Errant Canadians

It’s fun to see Jean-Paul Riopelle, now considered to have been of Canada’s foremost artists, described as a “young abstract painter” in Les Canadiens errants, a 1956 National Film Board documentary. He describes the open atmosphere of Paris as being particularly conducive to the creation of art. Implicitly, of course, he is referring to the […]

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Street Racing for the Penniless

The homeless guy pushing around a shopping cart full of bottles and cans is so well-entrenched in our imagination that it has become a bit of a stereotype. In cities with large concentrations of marginalized people, however, like Vancouver, they serve as a constant reminder of the dredges of the urban economy. When they are […]

Songs and Dances of the Underground

It often seems like the subway is treated as a metaphor for urban life in general. When we’re immersed in the optimism of economic expansion, it represents progress and vitality. In more troubled times, it becomes a symbol of crime, danger, aggression and alienation. Last winter, while browsing the shelves in Stephen Welch’s bookstore on […]

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Paul Tomkowicz, Switchman

I always wonder about the street cleaners I see around Hong Kong, small and weathered by sun and age, who sweep the pavement with coarse straw brooms. Their wide-rimmed hats, like the kind traditionally seen on Tanka “boat people,” seem oddly anachronistic next to their reflective safety vests and surgical masks. Who are they? Where […]

The City to Yourself

Biking around at night is a uniquely satisfying experience. You begin to feel ownership as you pass through shadows and empty streets: for once, you have the city all to yourself, and it becomes a fantasy landscape, a blank slate for adventures and flights of fancy. Earlier today, while poking around the National Film Board’s […]

Another Time, Another City

The National Film Board of Canada is about to release La mémoire des anges, a new film by Luc Bourdon about life in 1950s and 60s Montreal, created by stitching together footage from the NFB’s vast archives. If this trailer is any indication, it will be an absolutely fascinating look at a city that, for […]

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The Street

[youtube]54dm0Z99VOY[/youtube] When a street, neighbourhood or city is mythologized, its private spaces are torn open for the world to see. Stories might be just that—stories—but they have a way of humanizing the people that might otherwise be strangers. That’s what Mordecai Richler did for St. Urbain Street and Montreal’s old Jewish neighbourhood, which includes much […]