It was understandably buried in Alicia Van Couvering’s recent article about “mumblecore” in Filmmaker magazine (with Sarah Polley on the cover, natch) but I cite films like Blaine Thurier’s Low Self-Esteem Girl as early influences on our programming for this “mumblecore movement.” If anyone wants to track the history of “mumblecore,” the Canadians deserve their credit. Maybe these films didn’t influence the filmmaking, but they certainly influenced my own taste in bringing them together at SXSW.
When Bryan Poyser and I were programming narrative features for SXSW, back in 2001, we found ourselves loving these small and quiet character-based features “about nothing.” And, at SXSW 2001, we dove head-first in selecting many of them for the festival. Thurier’s Low Self-Esteem Girl ruled the roost that year, winning the Narrative Feature Jury prize. Since then, Thurier has made another feature, Male Fantasy, which premiered at SXSW in 2004 (followed by screenings at Toronto and Slamdance, the next year). Thurier hasn’t made a third feature yet, primarily because he’s busy with his full-time job: as the keyboard player for indie-pop band The New Pornographers. But the influence and connections he was awarded from his first feature carries on today, especially with Reg Harkema’s acclaimed and applauded film, Monkey Warfare (which continues its fest run in Boston this weekend).
And, there are others: Lynne Stopkewich (Kissed), Scott Smith (Rollercoaster), Gary Burns (Kitchen Party), Matt Bissonnette (Looking for Leonard), Gabriel Fleming (One Thousand Years), and Sean Garrity (Inertia), among them. Many of these filmmakers know and work with each other, much like “mumblecore.”
And, some of them choose to work with the crazy talents of veteran Canadian indie actors, Sarah Polley and Don McKellar (who are filmmakers in their own right now). McKellar starred in what, for me, was the beginning of it all: Bruce MacDonald’s wonderfully absurd road movie, Highway ’61 (1991). If you want to see the dawn of a terrific indie-film movement in The Great White North, find yourself a copy of that one. And, if anyone joins MacDonald in that realm, it would probably be Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden) and Deepa Mehta (Water). Of course, there are even grandfathers to this whole community of low-budget Canadian filmmakers (many of whom, make their living in TV). The ancestors would be gentlemen such as Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, who have certainly made strides for Hollywood with mixed results.
“Mumblecore” may seem like a very American group of filmmakers, but for me as a film fan and programmer, it was looking North that paved the way. The aforementioned Canadian, no-budget collective, carved a niche in my brain that made films by the likes of Bujalski, Swanberg, and the like, all the more appealing. Blame Canada.