Postcard from Vancouver
By Mathieu Ricordi
The general proclamation echoed around Vancouver residents is that the city – commonly nicknamed »Hollywood North« – is THE place to be for movie people. Putting stock in such a statement may not depend on determining its validity as truth or fabrication, but on a person’s own cinematic priorities. I cannot speak for Metropolises in lands abroad, but when it comes to Canadian cities, not one comes close to Vancouver’s mystifying display of the seventh art form’s split personality – the age old confusion between its role as glamour machine on wheels, incorporating any group or individual that either plays a part in greasing its wheels or the simple excited waving as it travels by, and its function as a cultural and creative outlet for skilled artists to form, and astute human receptors to ruminate over. Therefore, the stone-chiseled local outlook in my home city – the one that deems the area the »it« place to be for cinematic aspirations – is an assertion that will reveal itself in a person’s own determining of what side of the movies’ dual persona is most relevant and identifiable to them. Make no mistake; Vancouver is a movie service town, equivalent to an olden day railway town. Whether it’s the X-Men franchise or the latest Ben Stiller blockbuster, this city is a prime pit-stop for some of the most vaunted Hollywood production vehicles passing through for a complete working, before returning back to their home-base for the final creative touches prior to being shipped off to the multiplexes― where proud Vancouver residents can point to the screenings’ end credits at the names they recognize. There seems to be an inordinate amount of pride for most people here in knowing anyone who rolled cable or served Craft service on one of these movies; as there is gratification in recognizing a nearby street, or acquaintances’ living room. In this respect Vancouver is a booming movie spot, a strip of land that somehow managed to come close enough architecturally to be able to mimic certain American cities on celluloid, and that took advantage of a weaker national currency that enabled the transient Tinseltown producers to keep a longer leash on their budgets. But what of the Vancouver citizens who actually want to create moving pictures? As a bourgeoning filmmaker, I can speak from experience when I say it is a different picture than the one always painted by the city’s biggest promoters. It is one thing to have practically no industry to call our own, but it is even sadder when independent work is prevented from happening at every turn. Since Vancouver knows only the servicing of Multi-Million dollar Hollywood films, every business, residential home, and other potential set is wise to the highest value of a day’s filming in their space. Unions and the municipality are scarcely less helpful― the former charging high minimum fees even for non-professional crew members or actors, the latter making any second of outdoor shooting an extremely expensive and restrictive process. The only form of leniency from any of these gatekeepers comes solely through participation in promotional film contests where the participants have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit their short works. It is particularly irksome to fathom that the only way to get support in your city as a filmmaker is to have to lessen the quality and preparation of your work to fit into a certain »festivity«. Then again, these back-handed encouragements to build some sort of cinematic foundation with our own talent goes hand in glove with the unspoken mantra of the city – the appeal and surface are what make the cinema, and those who take part don’t need to build, so long as they share a part of the glitz; Vancouver has chosen its side of the movies’ dual persona.
Published in Ekran, 2007 (July/August)