All Rock, No Mounties: Canadian Bruce McDonald's "Hard Core
By Nick Poppy
Bruce McDonald is a Canadian legend. This might sound like faint praise,
and depending on your vantage point, perhaps it is. Over the past
decade, McDonald has directed a series of trippy, moody, low-budge
independent features, such as "Highway 61," "Roadkill," and "Dance Me
Outside." His films have won him acclaim in the land of the maple, but
McDonald hasn't made the kind of splash he'd like in the U.S. or other
foreign markets. His latest effort is "Hard Core Logo," a mock
rockumentary on the swan song tour of a doomed Vancouver hardcore band.
And this time, McDonald's got an ace up his sleeve, since Quentin
Tarantino's distribution group Rolling Thunder, along with Cowboy
Booking International, is distributing the movie in the U.S. The film opens
today at The Screening Room in New York City.
indieWire spoke with McDonald in the storied Chelsea Hotel, a place
that's seen more than its fair share of doomed rockers and artistes.
Unlike every other director in the history of the world, McDonald is
disarmingly soft-spoken and boundlessly optimistic. Meeting him makes
you want to root for him.
indieWIRE: What's the appeal of a movie about an aging hardcore band?
Bruce McDonald: The roots of this story are the late 70s, early 80s
punk...Vancouver, like a lot of cities I guess, they had their own
indigenous punk rock scene. And one or two of the people from that town
became more nationally known in Canada. When I was growing up, that was
the music that really kicked me into, like, I'm on the planet, this is
fantastic. And it's not a period thing, where you go back and sort of
see it as it's starting to happen, what I thought was really interesting
is where it is 15 years later, and what are these guys doing now.
Because a lot of those bands, in Toronto and Vancouver and I'm sure
here, too, they're still around, some guys are still playing, [like] DOA
iW: Vancouver is a huge center for production. What was it like
shooting a low budget there? How were you received?
McDonald: It's funny to work on a project and roll into a town where
everybody's got some kind of personal connection to that. They were in
college at the time, or they knew that band, or they were in that band.
Like our cameraman Danny was the lead singer in some punk band, so for
him it was a great experience. The other people in the crew would all
have a reference to that place, so it's really exciting. Vancouver is
the kind of place where they're just beginning to have their own
indigenous film [scene]- there's a couple of filmmakers there, but it's
mostly American movies of the week, and it's huge - "X-Files" shoot
there ["X-Files" recently moved to L.A.-Ed.], and "Millenium," a couple
other things, so it's this huge film culture in the city, but they're
all not of the city, and usually the city is [supposed to be] someplace
else, Seattle or wherever. So it's neat to roll into town and the
Vancouver crews were so not used to telling their own stories, so it's
really exciting for the crew to be like, this is ours, this is a film
about our town, it's a film about our homeboys. When we were making it,
the distributors were going, well, maybe it could be set in Seattle
iW: But it was important to have it set in Canada?
McDonald: I hope that places like Saskatoon and Regina sound kind of
exotic for somebody living in Tennessee or Berlin - it's just as weird
as Buttfuck, Nebraska or some small town in the Midwest.
iW: Can you talk about what it's like being a filmmaker in Canada?
McDonald: The Canadian thing. I began making films in the 80's, but
before then there wasn't really much. There was no guys ahead of us.
Cronenberg, maybe. [Norman] Jewison, though Jewison's more California,
made his films in America, though he's a Canadian guy. So there's no
real people to learn from or mentor with or say hey, I want to make one
as good as this guy. It's kind of neat being a part of that first wave,
of like a bunch of us, actually, essentially kind of making the first -
not the first, but as a group - as a kind of a movement - it was like
me, Atom Egoyan, who was just nominated for a fucking Academy Award. We
all thought, wow, that's really cool. And you just make - I don't set
out intentionally to tell a Canadian story, it's just the fact that this
story was from Vancouver and they had their own weird little scene
there, so it was like, well, let's do Vancouver. And that's part of what
puts it on the map. Some Americans are scared that when it comes in,
people will think it's weird that it's in Canada, if it could only be in
Minnesota, but you think, what the fuck is the difference anyway? It's
not that much. So as I said, there's a lot of production in Toronto,
Montreal, Vancouver, that's American dollar, there's such a great
exchange there that there's tons of stuff being shot there. But you feel
a certain connection to the land you stand on.
It's weird being a Canadian filmmaker, because you're right next door to
everything. Every kind of movie. We have - the average Canadian movie,
like a big budget Canadian movie, is a million dollars, right? It's kind
of a neat stage. People have learned their craft and are starting to
make more international financing deals and stuff like that...There's a
lot of great writers and stories out of our country that are kind of
iW: How does it compare with filmmakers in the States?
McDonald: It's funny, coming in with a weird low budget independent
Canadian film. There are so many independent artists in the States, and
in Canada, it's kind of like just making a film is a victory, you know
what I mean? Because there are not that many, really, that are
indigenous. So there's a lot of things that are overlooked. And when a
movie comes out, it's like, wow, you made a movie. Now there's more of a
critical appraisment, it's becoming a little bit more realistic. Now
it's got to be entertaining, it's got to be good. It can't just be a
film that screens. It's a long way to go, but the independent community
[in Canada] is a great group of people, who share information and help
each other out.
iW: So there's a lot of help in Canada?
McDonald: Yeah. This is the fourth film I've made. Canada is a place that
really supports. There are arts councils, the National Arts Council and
provincial ones and there's a film bank, essentially, which is used to
develop and nurture independent films...You hear these great stories
about American filmmakers at Sundance using credit cards and dad's
money, and they've got it a lot tougher, but it's always surprising to
me how many people keep wanting to make movies. It's this weird kind of
thing...They're sort of seduced into this...It attracts a lot of people,
and there's a few that can navigate through it and actually make a good
movie. But it's a good place to be an independent filmmaker, because of
iW: I read something recently about how the CBC [Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation] is trying to produce more domestic programs, instead of
importing them. What's that about?
McDonald: It's great, because we're getting money from the government
to sort of show Canada to itself. That's basically the mandate of the
CBC. And it's much cheaper for them to buy "Three's Company" or
something. It's always much cheaper to buy second run American things.
But now, we had a series on, we made last spring, a six-part half-hour
weird little thing that played the CBC. They never understood the script
or anything. I think they just had some money left over and said here
you go, so we just did whatever we wanted. It was quite a hit. What
happens in Canada is you have all these tax laws and content regulations
and stuff like this, and what you find is you have shows, I've never
seen these shows, like "F/X," basically American stories, but if they
can get a Canadian cast, they can kind of say it's Canadian, but it's
just not. It's just some action thing or vampire thing, it has nothing
to do with the real stories coming out of the place. But you can only
regulate so much, because a lot of people will take advantage of that as
well, take advantage of the whole content thing and make these lame
nationalistic, jingoistic crap.
iW: I'm trying to imagine what form that would take.
McDonald: Like guys flying around in search planes, and forest rangers.
iW: Or Mounties. What are your ideas for specifically Canadian stories?
McDonald: There are Canadian stories, and there are stories written by
Canadians that are really cool stories, like, two examples; one would be
this amazing story, I don't know why it's never been made into a movie,
about this Irish family, that moved from Ireland to Canada in the late
1800's, and they were these tough-ass motherfucker big Irish guys, and
they lived in this township that didn't like them too much. To make a
long story short, the priest and the sheriff and everybody got together
one night at the school house, and they dressed up in women's clothes
and went down to the farm and they fucking just killed them all. Beat
the shit out of the grandmother with a club, killed three guys, because
they didn't like them. And nobody was ever prosecuted. It's amazing,
the characters and the fabric of that story, it's wild. Nobody's ever
told that story. It's sort of like a frontier, "Godfather," "Straw Dogs"
kind of thing.
On the other hand, one of my favorite writers is this guy Michael
Ondaatje, who would be know most for the "English Patient," right? He's
got two other books, his first book is called "The Collected Works of
Billy the Kid," which is an amazing, impressionistic look at the Billy
and Pat Garrett story. That's one of the projects we're working on.
They're sort of American stories, yet the mentality or the processing is
very Canadian, in the sense that they've deconstructed the myth.
Americans love their myths and love their heroes. They love the hero and
they're really good at it, and they're really great things, and I think
there's this idea that Canadians have this sort of weird perspective,
sitting on the ledge of America, watching stuff go on. We listen to
American music and we watch American movies, yet there's this subtle
difference, of we're on the outside looking in. So sometimes it gives
you an advantage into a culture and go, 'this is what it kind of looks
like to us.'
[Nick Poppy is a writer and producer living in Brooklyn.]