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Streaming service Mubi offers a new wave of Canadian filmmakers some much-deserved exposure

For those paying attention to this current moment in Canadian cinema, the names Ashley McKenzie, Kazik Radwanski, Hugh Gibson and Sofia Bohdanowicz will seem familiar. As the filmmakers behind Werewolf, How Heavy This Hammer, The Stairs and Maison du Bonheur, respectively, they are just four of the many bold, brash and hungry filmmakers busy interrogating the concept of what, exactly, a Canadian film could and should be.

For those not in the loop, though – ie., the many audiences both domestic and abroad who are unable to catch these films during their quick festival and theatrical runs, if such opportunities are even granted in the first place – Mubi is here to help.

In Kakiz Radwanski's film How Heavy This Hammer (2015), a family man who spends most of his time playing computer games makes a drastic shift when he suddenly decides to leave his wife.

Syndicado

The U.S.-based, globally available streaming service, which bills itself as a more tightly curated alternative to giants such as Netflix and Amazon, will on July 20 launch its first-ever series celebrating what it calls “the new wave of Canadian cinema.”

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Every day, Mubi’s curation team introduces one new film into its online catalogue – but audiences only have 30 days to watch that movie before it’s replaced by another selection. The quick turnaround and limited selection (essentially, the service offers only 30 films at any one time) is designed to appeal to audiences who are propelled by urgency and curiosity – watch these carefully selected films now, before they disappear forever – unlike, say, Netflix, where films can languish at the bottom of your queue until either your interest and/or its streaming rights expire.

“We program festival-friendly cinema, art-house cinema, cult classics – movies that have a singular vision,” says Kurt Walker, a programmer for Mubi who designed the new Canadian series. “And this movement of emerging Canadian filmmakers, we’ve had them on our radar for a while. It’s a really promising time in Canadian cinema and we thought it was essential to share these works with our subscribers.”

Kicking off with McKenzie’s raw and riveting addiction drama Werewolf and closing with Bohdanowicz’s Maison du Bonheur, a poignant documentary about the life of an elderly Parisian woman, Mubi’s series will cycle through 10 recent and essential works that attempt to capture the verve and variances within the current Canadian landscape. Indeed, the rest of the lineup reads like a greatest-hits of the current moment: Radwanski’s dark drama How Heavy This Hammer and Gibson’s doc The Stairs, but also Chloe Robichaud’s Boundaries, Guillaume Langlois’s Historytelling, Olivier Godin’s The Art of Speech, Winston DeGiobbi’s Mass for Shut-Ins and Isiah Medina’s Idizwadidiz. Some selections played huge festivals such as TIFF, others barely made it into art-house theatres and some of the Quebeçois films failed to escape their own provincial boundaries.

Critically acclaimed filmmaker Ashley McKenzie's feature debut Werewolf examines the hardscrabble existence of two homeless addicts.

La Distributrice de Films

“A lot of these films haven’t travelled domestically, let alone internationally and there’s been maybe an indifference or lack of knowledge about Canadian cinema,” says Walker, a Vancouver native and filmmaker himself (the docs Hit 2 Pass and Everything Is Embarrassing). “We hope we can help change that with this program.”

The series came with only a few parameters – films had to be produced within the past three years and, naturally, the rights had to be available.

“This movement stretches back 10 years, I’d say, so we can’t call this the definitive representation of the movement,” Walker says. “But we’ve tried to select films that are distinctly Canadian – not American movies in disguise – and that have distinct ways of reconfiguring storytelling.”

Related: Review: Werewolf is one of the summer’s best movies

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How Heavy This Hammer is a raw portrait of a man in a rut

As to whether streaming services might offer a radical new model of exposure for Canadian filmmakers – a space where directors can loudly and proudly introduce their work to global audiences – or more of a secondary boost, Walker leans toward the latter. For now.

“I think it’s still essential to have your film on the festival circuit,” he says. “An online premiere on a streaming service is good, but for the time being, all we can do is service the films as best we can and I think we’re doing that with this international, globally exclusive program of Canadian films. Time will tell.” (Although it prefers to distance itself from its larger competitors, Mubi – such as Netflix – doesn’t provide specific viewership numbers.)

In the meantime, Mubi is keeping its eyes on Canada, “We’re eager to explore Indigenous cinema in Canada and devote a program to that in the future,” Walker says, as well as ensuring its subscribers are exposed to other globally specific work.

“We’ve done a series on new Argentine cinema, where we’ve similarly collected young talent and we’re working on a new Spanish cinema program, too,” Walker says. “We’re paying close attention to what’s going on across the board internationally. There’s a lot of synchronicity between nations with this influx of emerging filmmakers, and with all that facilitates their work.

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“More and more young people are making movies and that’s changing movies. People are just picking up cameras – and that’s the future.”

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