If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage: screenwriting, national specificity and the English-Canadian feature film

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Abstract:

Like other film-producing nations, Canada's movie landscape was long ago colonized by US interests. While other nations also welcome American movies, the Canadian case is extreme: Canada has the lowest market share in the world of its own movies on its own screens. Living next to the world's most powerful country, Canada occupies geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally a position unique in the world. The historical and ongoing predicament of the lack of success of English-Canadian feature films has been variously attributed to similarities to the United States in language and culture, lower production budgets, and weaknesses in distribution, exhibition, marketing and quality. The role of screenwriting, however, is little understood and rarely broached. In this article, we argue the importance of screenwriting in understanding national cinemas; show that it has institutional, sociological and nation-specific dimensions; and present Canada as an ideal case to begin examining such factors. The first dimension the institutional is defined by auteurism as well as the collaborative nature of production. The second the sociological is greatly affected by exclusionary networks and various levels of discrimination based on such factors as gender, ethnicity/race, age, sexuality and economic class. The nation-specific area pertains to diverse historical, cultural and institutional practices particular or exclusive to the country or region. English-Canada, for instance, experiences a unique and complex cultural policy environment. Moreover, its fractured and regional history is one that has resulted in the production of obsessively performed narratives of national identity, particularly imbricated with Qubec, the United States, Britain and France. Our analysis draws together strands of intersecting disciplines, combining film theory and history with production studies, close textual analyses, political economy and nation theory, calling for a more complete picture of the role of screenwriting in national cinemas.

Keywords: Canadian identity; Canadian screenwriting; English-Canadian feature films; nation-specific screenwriting; national cinema; screenwriting

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/josc.2.1.61_1

Affiliations: Ryerson University.

Publication date: January 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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