________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 10 . . . . January 11, 2008


Escape to Canada.

Albert Nerenberg (Writer & Director). Shannon Brown (Producer). Silva Basmajian (NFB Producer/Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
81 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9105 179.

Subject Headings:
Same-sex marriage-Canada.
Civil rights-Canada.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

** /4

What associations does the word “Canada” summon up for those living outside the country? As vintage black and white images of our country appear in the opening minutes of this documentary, old stereotypes are intoned: beavers, cold winters, the Mounties – definitely not an exciting country. And accompanying the beginning of Escape to Canada, is a chorus of “boring, boring, boring ...” being sung by a group of  ... well, we’re not sure who’s singing. But, one thing is certain, Canada is boring.

     Cut to a shot of Toronto’s Pride Parade, a lesbian couple in a hot embrace, and all this is happening in ... yes, Canada. The year is now 2003, and although our countryside may experience snow and ice for half the year, the social climate is positively tropical. South of the border, the United States may claim to be the “land of the free”, but neo-conservativism, led by supporters of George W. Bush, has constrained social reforms. Gay rights and the de-criminalization of marijuana are under siege: the Bush Administration is waging a war on drugs and is re-writing the U. S. Constitution to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage.

     Meanwhile, north of the 49th parallel, in British Columbia, pot is the number one cash crop, and Vancouver (a.k.a. Vansterdam) is a “marijuana mecca.” Ontario becomes the first Canadian province to legalize same-sex marriage. Between pot tourists, American soldiers going AWOL to avoid fighting in the war in Iraq, and gay couples heading north to legalize their unions, “the great white north” celebrated in song by the Mackenzie Brothers is a destination, and 2003 is a “summer of freedom,” a time to “escape to Canada.” However, this halcyon era comes to an end with the 2004 re-election of George Bush and later, the election of Stephen Harper. The forces of conservatism have won, at least for the time being.

     Escape to Canada offers an interesting perspective on the convergence of forces for social change. And, it offers yet another look at how Canadians differ from Americans. At the same time, the movie makes some sweeping generalizations about both nations and certainly could have used better editing. Aerial shots of wildlife (the four-footed type) bounding across the wooded landscape are amusing the first time they appear, parodic the second time, and tiresome by the third. Interviews with U. S. soldiers fleeing the military, crusaders for de-criminalization of pot, and same-sex marriage supporters add credibility to Erenberg’s argument, but too many of anything become - dare I say it - boring. And, at 81 minutes, some of the footage could have been cut.

     How might Escape to Canada be used in a classroom? Possibly, it could be shown to senior high students in subject areas such as Canadian Law or Sociology. However, I caution users of the film that they should view it in its entirety and should know their class well before screening it. Same-sex marriage and de-criminalization of marijuana are controversial topics in any community.

Recommended with reservations.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian, at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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