Film and the City
250 pages, 6 x 9
15 images
Release Date:01 Apr 2014

Film and the City

The Urban Imaginary in Canadian Cinema

Athabasca University Press

For many years, Canadian cinema was dominated by the documentary tradition of the National Film Board, which tended to promote what film scholar Jim Leach has called the “nationalist-realist project”—films that privileged Canada’s natural landscape and sought to conjure a unified sense of Canadian identity from images of empty, untrammelled wilderness and bucolic farmlands. Over the past several decades, however, the hegemony of this fundamentally colonial, Anglo-centric vision has been challenged by francophone and First Nations perspectives and by the growth of cities, where most Canadians now reside, as economic and technological centres. In opposition to the mythic “Canada” shaped through the lens of rural nostalgia, Canadian urban identity asserts itself as polyphonic, diverse, constructed through multiple discourses and mediums, as an ongoing negotiation rather than a monolithic orientation. Taking the urban as setting and subject, filmmakers are ideally poised to capture this multiplicity, creating their own, idiosyncratic portraits of the Canadian urban landscape and of the people who inhabit it.

Examining fourteen Canadian films produced from the late 1980s onward, including Denys Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal (1989), Mina Shum’s Double Happiness (1994), and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007), Film and the City is the first comprehensive study of Canadian film and “urbanity”—the totality of urban culture and life as refracted through the filmmaker’s prism. Drawing on insights from both film and urban studies and building upon issues of identity formation long debated in Canadian studies, Melnyk considers how filmmakers interpret and employ the spatiality, visuality, and orality of urban space and how audiences read the films that result. In this way, Film and the City argues that Canadian narrative film of the postmodern period has contributed to the articulation of a new, multifaceted understanding of national identity.


Film and the City puts forth a new paradigm for the consideration of Canadian identity in cinema. Contending that earlier models were dependent on a largely rural representation of the nation. Melnyk shows how recent urban films facilitate and showcase a new mode of identity formation and articulation ... Through examining specific films and filmmakers with an eye to their locality, and by folding them into a composite constellation that illustrates new ideas of Canadian identity, this text will surely provide a new marker for discussions of this evergreen topic. William Beard, University of Alberta

George Melnyk is associate professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary. He is the author of One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema (2004), as well as the editor of The Young, the Restless, and the Dead: Interviews with Canadian Filmmakers (2008) and, with Brenda Austin-Smith, of The Gendered Screen: Canadian Women Filmmakers (2010).


Introduction: The Urban Imaginary in Canadian Cinema

The City of Faith: Navigating Piety in Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal (1989)

The City of Dreams: The Sexual Self in Lauzon’s Léolo (1992)

The Gendered City: Feminism in Rozema’s Desperanto (1991), Pool’s Rispondetemi (1991), and Villeneuve’s Maelstrom (2000)

The City Made Flesh: The Embodied Other in Lepage’s Le Confessional (1995) and Egoyan’s Exotica (1994)

The Diasporic City: Postcolonialism, Hybridity, and Transnationality in Virgo’s Rude (1995) and Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood (2001)

The City of Transgressive Desires: Melodramatic Absurdity in Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and My Winnipeg (2006)

The City of Eternal Youth: Capitalism, Consumerism, and Generation in Burns’s waydowntown (2000) and Radiant City (2006)

The City of Dysfunction: Race and Relations in Vancouver from Shum’s Double Happiness (1994) to Sweeney’s Last Wedding (2001) and McDonald’s The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess (2004)

Conclusion: National Identity and the Urban Imagination





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