Canadian Film, NOW & Then: A 35-year Retrospective In 29 Covers

April 12, 2017

Photo courtesy of Arts Brookfield

Photo courtesy of Arts Brookfield

REEL CANADA spends all year promoting and celebrating Canadian film, but we’ve only been around since 2005. Toronto’s NOW Magazine, the city’s leading independent media voice, has been quietly championing the up-and-comers in the industry for the past 35 years—if you consider NOW’s bold, iconic cover images quiet.

In support of National Canadian Film Day 150 (NCFD 150), REEL CANADA and NOW Magazine will host a VIP reception to kick off a two-week exhibition showcasing the NOW cover images that have captured the best and brightest of Canadian cinema over the past 35 years. The reception will take place on April 12, a week before NCFD 150, at 5:30 pm. The exhibit, titled Canadian Film NOW & Then: A 35-Year Retrospective in 29 Covers, will run from April 10 to 22 at Brookfield Place and is supported by the Director’s Guild of Canada — Ontario, and Telefilm Canada.

Read on to hear more from NOW’s senior entertainment editor, Susan G. Cole:

Canadian Film, NOW & Then: A 35-year Retrospective In 29 Covers

Big heads, big talent, big ideas. That’s what strikes you about NOW Magazine’s focus on Canadian movies over the past 35 years.

How to describe the lens we’ve applied to our coverage? Independent. Activist-oriented. Always on the lookout for new talents.

So Canadian Film, NOW & Then: A 35-year Retrospective In 29 Covers is not a Canada’s Greatest Hits package. Our news and entertainment weekly first hit Toronto streets in 1981 just as Telefilm’s revitalized film policies were peaking. But we weren’t drawn to the tax-sheltered, government-promoted co-productions designed to create a commercially successful product that typically – and intentionally – did not scream “Canadian.”

We liked the smaller movies. The first NOW cover in this exhibit features Ron Mann, whose documentary Poetry In Motion surveyed artists committed to the least profitable literary art form. Especially early in our history, we preferred edgy themes to feel-good fodder and were passionately committed to putting the spotlight on local artists.

New discoveries became our specialty. We often featured film debuts – Deepa Mehta’s Sam & Me, Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing, for example – or alit on the films in which young directors had found their artistic footing, like Atom Egoyan’s Speaking Parts, to name just one. Our film writers, the late John Harkness, Alice Klein, Cameron Bailey, Ingrid Randoja – and later Norman Wilner, Glenn Sumi, Radheyan Simonpillai and Susan G. Cole – were prescient. In almost every case, the cover subject went on to win multiple awards – including Oscar nominations in the cases of Mehta, Egoyan and actor-turned-writer/filmmaker Sarah Polley.

We, however, could not have predicted how many of them would switch creative gears so successfully: filmmaker Mann is now also an influential distributor with Films We Like, Jay Baruchel has gone behind the camera with his charming hockey series Goon, and Polley, too, now sits in the director’s chair, having explored fictional families in Away From Her and Take This Waltz and her own history in the acclaimed documentary Stories We Tell.

We didn’t shy away from proudly experimental artists like Mike Hoolboom, Richard Fung and John Greyson, and fully a third of our subjects are queer. And we honoured activist documentary makers like duo Janis Cole and Holly Dale and Alanis Obamsawin. The added attraction of covering Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman’s Genie Award-winning Forbidden Love was the chance to give credit to the National Film Board’s budding Studio D, committed to female filmmakers.

All these film artists are brave, passionate and completely committed. Writer John Harkness, whose obituary is included in the show, made the point in his story about Yves Simoneau that it has always been extremely difficult to make movies in Canada and, with the United States breathing down our borders, to find audiences.

We chose actors for our covers who we knew were on their way to stardom. When Cameron Bailey spoke to Ellen Page in 2005, he called her the next big thing. He was right. Tatiana Maslany may be a megastar (and an Emmy-winner) these days, but she was still the country’s best-kept secret when she appeared on our cover.

Yes, John Candy was already a Canadian icon when Ron Howard gave him his breakout role in Splash and showed the rest of the world what he could do. And now there’s a groundswell of support for the idea of dubbing the Canadian Screen Awards the Candys.

From the beginning, NOW was a scrappy, independent publication, but it’s always been beautiful to look at. The spectacularly shot portrait – affectionately known as the Big Head – became our visual signature and defined the news¬paper’s look. In the early days, that was all there was on page one: a head and a few words. As you can see in this chronologically organized show, we added more type on our covers as time went on. But being that subject always meant something.

We foreshadowed our film cover subjects’ ascension, but we didn’t appreciate the breadth of their influence until we asked younger actors and directors to comment on those who’d made a difference to them. As you can see from the text accompanying these images, they leapt in enthusiastically, telling us why these artists matter, giving added meaning to these powerful images. And where we could, we let the photographers weigh in on how they got the shot.

These days NOW remains a ferociously independent magazine, both in print and especially online, where we our creating new possibilities in an ever-changing digital world. One thing about our future is certain: we will continue to highlight local creators, shake up the mainstream and be a bold and powerful presence in Toronto.

Now take a walk through Canadian film’s – and NOW’s – history.

Susan G. Cole, NOW senior entertainment editor

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