Warner (JR Bourne) in David Christensen’s Six Figures.
Snagging the critics’ pick for Best Revival Programming in NOW’s 2009 Best of T.O. round-up, the Revue Cinema’s suitably named Canadian Cinema in Revue program is bringing something different to Toronto’s typical rep cinema offerings. While you can usually count on the Bloor Cinema for second-run movies and a smattering of horror and cult films, and the Royal for more artful offerings (though their recent screenings of The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-a-phenomenon flick, have endeared them to the midnight movie set in recent months), the Revue on Roncesvalles has often been left in the dust, too far west to capture an audience.
But Canadian Cinema in Revue may change that. Programmed by Alan Bacchus, who runs the film blogs Daily Film Dose and Canadian Film Dose, the Revue’s on-again, off-again series is providing a valuable civic duty: offering up underrated and unknown Canadian films for the niche audiences interested in such things. Previous screenings in the series have featured the 2003 Philip Seymour Hoffman vehicle Owning Mahoney and Vincenzo Natali’s geometry-nerd psychodrama Cube (well known to any Canadian kid who spent late nights watching Showcase, hoping to catch a curse word or some full-frontal nudity). This week sees Canadian Cinema in Revue breaking from their genre cinema holding pattern to offer up one of the most exceptional Canadian films of the decade.
Based on a novel by Fred Leebron, David Christensen’s Six Figures (2005) flew way under the radar when it premiered at TIFF, mostly banished to the unforgiving domain of Video On Demand, where it has steadily acquired a sub-cult following by anyone fortunate enough to have caught it. Set against the suburban boom in Calgary, Six Figures traces the strained marriage of two not-so-upwardly-mobile thirtysomethings, Warner (JR Bourne) and Claire (Caroline Crave), as they struggle to buy their dream home and give their life the false sense of sanctuary it desperately needs.
It may proceed from tropes of suburban ennui that have hung over everything from The Stepford Wives to the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense album, but Six Figures unmoors itself from its bourgeois trappings when Warner is accused of bludgeoning his wife in the back of the head with a hammer, sending her into a coma. House-hunting and careerism quickly take a backseat as the questions of whether or not Warner actually clubbed his wife, and whether or not she just claims not to be able to identify the assailant in order to salvage something like a normal life, evolve as the film’s central mysteries. With only one suspect, Six Figures isn’t much of a caper. What it is, though, is a studied portrait of spousal abuse, the stresses of familial responsibility, and the stultifying boredom of everyday life. Warner’s temper may make him the prime suspect in his wife’s beating, but given his own family’s precipitating pathologies of violence, his guilt (or better, the measure of his guilt) remains hazy, presented to the peer-jury audience with nothing like bloody glove blatancy.
Alan Bacchus addresses a captive audience at Canadian Cinema in Review.
And though Christensen’s portrait of middle-class malaise and fractured family dynamics may smack superficially of films like Arcand’s L’âge des ténèbres (2007) or Egoyan’s Adoration (2008), his film has more in common with the intricate moral and aesthetic frameworks of Michael Haneke than any recent vintage Can Cin offerings (though it may make an interesting double-bill with another kind-of-Canadian film from 2005, Cronenberg’s more lurid and plainly allegorical A History of Violence). Granted, some of the supporting performances possess the stiffness many of us have come to expect (and even relish) in low-budget Canadian movies, but both Bourne and Cave are magnificent, delivering stellar turns that would have been career-making had anyone actually seen this film.
Chief amongst Six Figures‘ more staunch supporters is Adam Nayman, a film critic for Eye and Metro, who will be hosting a Q&A with director David Christensen after Tuesday’s screening. It’s these sorts of flourishes—a programmer selecting from a wide range of Canadian features, bringing in critics to offer some perspective on the films, and hosting engaging conversations with the actual filmmakers—that make Canadian Cinema in Revue well-worthy of its “Best of T.O” honours. Now, with the help of Bacchus and Nayman, Six Figures may stand to gain similar accolades.
We spoke to Alan Bacchus about Canadian Cinema in Revue, Six Figures, and the difficulty of getting Canadian filmgoers to support Canadian films.
Torontoist: How long has Canadian Cinema in Revue been running?
Alan Bacchus: It’s been running since June of last year. We’ve done five events. I wanted to do one per month, but we avoided scheduling anything around TIFF, and in October my wife gave birth to our first child, which, of course, became my main priority. But now I’ve had some time to rekindle the flame and keep it going.
How has the response been so far?
We’re not a full house for the screenings, but the audiences for each screening have definitely been growing. We have limited marketing resources and so everything is done on a grassroots level. But we have a group of dedicated personnel at the Revue who do all that they can do spread the word. Toronto media has been receptive, and we’ve had most of the major outlets do pieces on the screenings over the last few months. So I think we’re doing something right.
Is it at all difficult trying to drum up interest for Canadian films, or do you find that there are enough people who will respond to the opportunities you’re facilitating to see Canadian shorts and features?
Toronto has a very knowledgeable and eager film-going audience, so it’s not hard to drum up interest. Anyone I talk to really, really wants Canadian films to succeed, but putting that attitude into practice can be hard. For each screening there will be a number of core people who a) might be connected to the film somehow b) are regular neighbourhood Revue patrons, c) are friends of mine, or the filmmakers who will come out. But it’s definitely difficult to bring audiences up to the next level, which is why we’ve been offering the value-added experience of the short film and Q&A afterwards—trying to make each screening special. And without a publicity budget it’s always difficult. But we all try our best.
You were awarded the Best Revival Programming nod from NOW recently. How did that feel?
I was so surprised, but graciously welcomed the honour. There’s a lot of good alternative programming being done by other theatres around town, and so recognizing us was a great boost to our collective self-esteem. I think I have Norman Wilner to thank for that. Thanks Norman!
There seems to have been a bit of a focus on cult or genre films (Cube, FIDO). How does Six Figures fit into that?
Yes, definitely. Really, the films I’ve chosen have been ones that I personally like. So the program started with my personal tastes. And I guess I lean toward genre. I was also trying to consciously stay away (for the moment) from those familiar Canadian titles, not because they’re not great, or I don’t like them, but because part of the mandate of the series is to rediscover films which many may have forgotten. Six Figures fits in as a “rediscovery.” It’s definitely not a genre film. It’s the most challenging of the films screened so far. It’s not for broad tastes, but it’s a film which has the power to touch the emotions of anyone who watches it.
Warner (JR Bourne) and Claire (Caroline Cave) in Six Figures.
Considering that Six Figures practically disappeared after premiering at TIFF a few years back, how did you catch wind of it?
At the time (2005) I was working for Capri Films/Capri Releasing, who serviced the release of the film in English Canada. There was a DVD screener that happened to be lying around and so I just picked it up and watched it, not having any knowledge about it at all. And I loved it. It really got under my skin and it’s always stuck with me. I saw it a second time, years down the road and it held up as a great film.
Any plans to program “artier” films at Canadian Cinema in Revue? What’s the future of the program more generally?
I’d call Six Figures “arty.” It’s certainly the most arty we’ve screened so far. It’s psychologically complex and ambiguous, with an untraditional narrative structure and without traditional forms of resolution. But I guarantee it will have audiences buzzing and talking about it afterwards. I would compare it to a less-grisly Michael Haneke film. Adam Nayman (Eye Weekly) who has been a champion of the film as well, and who will be conducting the Q&A, makes a good point in an article he wrote about the film in Cinema Scope magazine. He says, if Six Figures had a more recognizable name as director listed on the credits it would be considered a masterpiece. Instead, it’s now perceived as just another Canadian film come and gone. It’s time to change that and recognize it.
As far as the future of the program, I will definitely mix in some arty stuff, but not for the sake of it. I’m just going to keep going through my personal list of great Canadian films, or underrated Canadian films, and if art house stuff falls in on occasion so be it. Next up is Project Grizzly, which is one of the more popular cult films to come out of Canada. That’s pretty mainstream.
Six Figures screens Tuesday March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue).
Photos and stills courtesy Alan Bacchus.