Ghostbusters, Waiting for Guffman, Dumb and Dumber, Austin Powers, This Is The End, Uncle Buck and Porky’s are all very different comedies with one thing big thing in common: Canadians.
With the exception of Porky’s (a Canadian film disguised as an American one), every one of those movies are American films that feature Canadians in integral roles, either writing, directing, acting… basically bringing the funny. Nobody’s quite sure when or how this became our forte, but the success that our comedians have had south of the border is undeniable, even Tom Green was embraced (albeit briefly) by Hollywood.
Our rich history in comedy no doubt informed Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival director Jaie Laplante to reserve a special spot at the fest for our unique brand of humour. Laplante is himself an ex-pat Canuck. He was born in small town Alberta but has lived in Miami for over 12 years.
The 32nd annual festival (which began last Friday) is hosting a Canada & Comedy program featuring the work of three comedians who recently completed feature film debuts. Pat Mills, who as a child acted on You Can’t Do That On Television, writes, directs and stars in Guidance, about a misguided actor bottoming out and posing as a high school guidance counselor. In Preggoland (directed by Jacob Tierney), Sonja Bennett writes and stars as a single woman who fakes a pregnancy so that her friends and family take her more seriously. Dan Abromovici plays the titular character in Ben’s At Home, which he also wrote with director Mars Horodyski, about a man who realizes he no longer likes going out and decides to conduct all aspects of life from the comfort of home. All three films have a clear outsider/ misfit thread, and unlike most things Canadian, are unapologetic in their embracing of otherness.
We spoke with some of the multi talented people behind these films about their relationship to their characters, country and comedy.
Dork Shelf: All three films in the program star the screenwriter, does this speak to a DIY way of working in Canada or would you say it’s about being more collaborative?
Jacob Tierney: I would say it’s bit of both – Canada is full of self-starters, we have a rich tradition of it: Paul Gross, Don McKellar, etc, lots of folks come up writing and acting. And a lot of them have been smart enough to bring other voices into the room in the forms of strong directors and producers, because they understand the benefits of collaboration.
Dork Shelf: What comedies influenced yours?
Pat Mills: I would put it in mid-nineties American independent dark comedy tone. The ones that always inspired me were Welcome to the Dollhouse and Election, those movies that were really dark and a bit punk rock in terms of their comedy and weren’t really trying to appeal to a mass audience. Of the recent films, probably Young Adult, that was a big inspiration for me, just because I like movies that centre around someone who’s kind of questionable in terms of their likeability and there’s a lot of comedy to mine with that.
Jacob Tierney: You sound like a jackass naming people like Mike Nichols and Mike Leigh, but that’s kind of the truth. Steve Cosens (the dp) and I talked a lot about Life Is Sweet.
Mars Horodyski: We were really inspired by a lot of the American Indie filmmakers, like the Duplass brothers and Lynn Shelton for the tone of the comedy, but definitely there’s so much great comedic talent in Toronto that it was just so wonderful to bring all those people together. I think there’s something distinctly Canadian about that, about that talent that we’re able to bring, I think there’s a certain flavour that comes with that.
DS: Is there anything in your film that you feel makes it uniquely Canadian?
PM: I think it’s uniquely Canadian in the fact that we’re not hiding that it’s Canadian. I find that a lot of Canadian movies are ashamed to be Canadian, so I was just like, you know what, we’re already the alternative, let’s not pretend we’re trying to be in America here.
JT: I tend to think of North America as more regions than as two countries. For example, where I’m from in Quebec, you grow up right next to Vermont and Maine and upstate NY and we all have a lot in common. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, Preggoland feels more like a suburban, West Coast story to me (in that order), and I think that is definitely identifiable.
Dan Abramovici: I feel like so much of what makes it Canadian is how it came together. In Canada we don’t have this crazy star system that they do in L.A. which I guess is a double edged sword in some respects but where it benefited us was we were able to get incredibly talented comedic actors that by every right should be household names.
DS: What are you looking forward to most in Miami?
PM: The Sun. The warmth.
JT: Is it bad to say the weather? It was -22 yesterday here in Montreal.
Mars and Dan were in L.A. when I spoke to them.
MH: Sometimes it’s nice to connect with Canadians outside of Canada for some reason. I find I’ve built some great friendships by hanging out with people at festivals who I didn’t know that well but there is this kind of bond that happens when you’re out at a festival, exploring a new city and hanging out and watching films together.
DA: And I’m just going to blast the Will Smith hit Miami really loud on a loop and just how long before I get my ass kicked.
All three screenplays are up for the $5,000 cash Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriting Award for Best First-Produced Screenplay.
Guidance will screen at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Thursday, March 12 at 9:30pm, read our TIFF review of it here.
Preggoland plays at the Regal Cinemas South Beach on Wednesday, March 11at 9:00 PM, with a repeat screening scheduled on March 13 at Cinépolis in Cocowalk at 9:30 PM, read our TIFF review of it here.
Ben’s at Home plays at Regal Cinemas South Beach on Saturday, March 14 at 6:30 PM. They are currently pitching the idea as a new web series, watch the trailer for that here.
All Canadian films in this year’s Festival are supported by Telefilm Canada and the Consulate General of Canada in Miami.