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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Canon busting?: approaching contemporary Canadian cinema Burgess, Diane


This thesis explores contemporary Canadian cinema by investigating the convergence of films, policy and criticism as they are implicated in the idea of canon. Both fluid and multiple in its frame(s) of reference, the term canon extends beyond a list or core of privileged texts to include the processes of evaluation. Posited as a performative construct, the national cinema canon can be seen as offering a strategically deployed expression of national cultural identity, with appraisals of each film's value arising from the intersection of critical and governmental discourses; however, narrow admission criteria along with the displaced goal of developing a distinctive national art cinema reinforce perceptions of absence-of Canadian culture and/or identity-by delimiting canonical boundaries to exclude more than they include. Focussing on feature film production since 1984, and adopting a predominantly English Canadian perspective, this thesis aims to examine the underlying assumptions that direct canon formation; rather than attempting to reject or replace the existing canon, this process of rereading entails working within the prevailing discourses in order to generate an awareness of the politics of selection. Emerging from a tradition of liberal humanist nationalism, canon formation in the Canadian context invokes conflicting conceptions of high cultural enlightenment and mass commodity success which have become entrenched as a continuing tension between cultural and industrial goals. These tensions are further complicated by a "double conscious" perspective that simultaneously values and rejects American cinema culture. Chapter One explores the factors shaping the admission criteria of origin and value, while Chapter Two addresses the relationship between national culture and canon formation. Chapter Three considers the ways in which Canadian cinema is defined through policy, including a case study of the 1999 Feature Film Advisory Committee Report, which encapsulates the directional challenges facing cultural policy development. Approaches to devising a descriptive canon are addressed in Chapter Four, in which hybrid categories are suggested that could be used to supplant the nationalist perspective with an acknowledgement of the fluidity of the metaphysical frontier of culture, and hence the transnational, or perhaps post-nationalist, aspects of Canadian cultural experience.

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