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A classic Canadian journey

February 3, 2010

My local video store offers a “Rent two, get one free” deal; last week, when trying to pick my free rental, I noticed they had a Criterion Collection copy of Paddle to the Sea.

I’m pretty sure that I saw Paddle to the Sea in school when I was 7 or 8 years old. I’m pretty sure that every Canadian born in the last 45 years watched Paddle to the Sea when they were young. Based on a story by Holling C. Holling, it’s about a tiny canoe carved in wood – with a wood-carved passenger inside – that makes a trip thousands of miles from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean.

It was made in 1966, and it’s still great. Yeah, the narration is a little hammy – but the film benefits from gorgeous photography, and a stoic hero who is undaunted by the forces of nature that are against him. And it helps that the canoe is just a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

If I had thought about if a bit more, I wouldn’t have rented the film at all – happily, it’s available over the internet at the NFB website. But like I said, it was a freebie, so I’m not kicking myself*. And I’ve been easily forgetting the National Film Board’s website, despite the fact that it has been growing for years and now boasts an incredible array of Canadian films.

I’ve been meaning for months to start watching more films on the NFB site, but just never get around to it. But it’s high on my list of resolutions for this year – and watching Paddle to the Sea was a reminder that there are a lot of terrific films to be seen**. Some great films to start with:

* Paddle to the Sea can also be seen fairly regularly on Canadian television. Still, there is something about the act of renting the film, sitting down and watching it in order to appreciate it.

** Contrary to popular opinion in Canada. A Canadian film has never been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and after yesterday’s nominations, that’s still true. What that says – if anything – about the quality of Canadian film is a debatable point.

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