POSSIBLE WORLDS FILM FESTIVAL 2011: The Canadian auteur Bruce McDonald had a very busy 2010: four features, a children's telemovie (the adorably-titled My Babysitter's a Vampire), some TV series work and several music videos.
McDonald resembles a gruff(er) version of Ray Winstone and is instantly recognisable at film events by his trademark cowboy hat. He is celebrated for a body work that incorporates multimedia, a passion for music and a healthy disrespect for the accepted norm. When he received The Best Canadian Feature Film award at the 1989 Toronto International Film Festival for his first feature Roadkill, McDonald caused quite a stink (no pun intended) with his vow to spend the $25,000 endowment on “a big chunk of hash”.
From his short feature debut Knock Knock (1985), which co-starred friend and fellow Canadian maverick Atom Egoyan, through to his work on the much-loved television series Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001 – present), McDonald has remained enigmatic in public, eclectic in his projects and faithful to the domestic industry that launched him (despite some very lean production periods). Retrospectively, his body of work shows innovation, intensity and a defiantly raucous subversive streak…
The Road Trilogy
Comprising of the low-budget Roadkill (1989), the coolly stylish Highway 61 (1991), and his breakthrough film, punk-rock mockumentary Hard Core Logo (1996), McDonald here began his career-long affection for wayward youths, their musical passions and the romance that drives them.
On Hard Core Logo, McDonald said: “I know people like to watch the movie and get high, and maybe other bands have covered some of these songs. But this is just a fun idea. It's entering that realm of Rocky Horror Picture Show or Dark Side of Oz where you have this film/music component that alternates, this alternating current that's just neat.” – JuiceBox.com, August 2008.
Dance Me Outside
About as mainstream as McDonald has ever allowed himself to be, this coming-of-age story set on an Indian reservation remains an edgy, truthful, vibrant work. (Sadly, it's rarely seen outside Canada). It was produced by McDonald's iconic countryman, Norman Jewison.
On telling a Native American story: “It doesn't really matter what colour the people are; it's all about respect and listening to each other and working together.” – North Bay Arts Centre, 1996.
The Tracey Fragments
The frantic mindset of your average Canadian teenager is brought to life, stunningly, in McDonald's split screen, multi-view drama. (For this critic, his best film.) A brisk 14-day shoot led to 8 months of post-production for a film that challenges and confounds but is deeply emotional – just like a teenager. The film helped launch Ellen Page's career. (Her next film was Juno.)
On the split-screen concept: “At the time it was written, I didn't have any split-screen stuff in mind… The reason why really is because it's like a kitchen sink movie. It's about poor people, bad side of town, dark, not tonnes of laughs, a lot of grimness in it. I thought the split screen would bring an airiness to it and a pop-art feel so that it didn't end up so relentlessly, fucking dreary.” – Filmleaf.net, October 2008.
McDonald's adaptation of Tony Burgess' apocalypse-themed novel proves that the Canadian underground icon could, given a Hollywood-sized budget, hit a blockbuster home run. Thanks to a literate, intelligent script, subtle zombie scares and a Genie-nominated performance from Stephen McHattie, McDonald delivers his most polished, mature work.
On the language-virus concept: “I loved the idea of the language virus. I never heard of anything this strange before but familiar in that sort of Andromeda Strain, end-of-the-word, I Am Legend kind of way. I've always loved those sorts of stories; there's just something so epic and terrifying about that.” – Suite 101, February 2009.
This Movie is Broken and Trigger
McDonald's instinctual use of music reached its zenith in 2010 with two films, both of which are screening at Possible Worlds. The soaring romanticism of This Movie is Broken (made with long-time friends, the band Broken Social Scene) and the joy of pure friendship central to Trigger perfectly represent the profoundly positive co-existence of music and film in McDonald's worldview. In 2009, he co-directed City Sonic, a portmanteau film chronicling over 20 of Toronto's little known musicians.
On The Movie is Broken: “I'm really proud of this movie in the sense that it is a bit of light, and a beautiful day, and community and friendship and kissing and making out. Even in romantic movies or sensual movies, people have to be punished for the pursuit of pleasure. And here, nobody is. It's refreshing.” – The Torontoist.com, June 2010.
Bruce McDonald has three films screening at the 2011 Possible Worlds – Sydney Canadian Film Festival. For more information visit the festival website.
Read SBS Film's preview of the festival highlights here.