Actor/all-Canadian Paul Gross, with Caroline Dhavernas and Niv Fichman
Passchendaele director and star Paul Gross doesn't think Stephen Harper hates the arts. He just thinks he's not interested in them. Judging by the turnout at Gross's press conference Friday morning, Harper's not the only one.
Gross, producer Niv Fichman (pictured) and stars Gil Bellows, Caroline Dhavernas and Joe Dinicol formed the panel for TIFF'08's second press conference, and looked as though they'd had a pretty good time celebrating their opening night Gala the night before. Gross, for one, slid bonelessly down his chair, proclaiming "I've gone Salvador Dali" just before the room was called to order.
But there wasn't much order to call, really.
Unlike the morning's first presser, which had been standing room only, the ballroom at the Sutton Place Hotel was sparsely populated for this one, and those folks who had turned up were, I'm willing to bet, all Canadian and almost all local.
Which is the kind of thing that makes it hard to counter the prevailing Conservative viewpoint that no one gives two damns about Canadian culture outside of a tiny group of artists and the media that cover them. In fact, there may be a few others who give at least one damn; besides the usual crowd of cameramen and autograph seekers outside Roy Thomson Hall last night was a small group protesting the feds' recent cultural funding cuts.
But in a climate where arts journalism and criticism are also being slashed - all over North America, not just in Canada - you'd think a few more of those beleaguered journalists would have shown up to hear a man who's famous for his passionate defence of cultural pursuits. But they didn't, so their audiences won't hear about it, so the audiences won't care, so governments can say "No one cares." Frustrating, ain't it?
Anyway. The government's war on art wasn't the only war under discussion this morning. Passchendaele is a Canadian World War I epic, one of the biggest films in scope and budget that's ever been produced entirely in Canada.
The timing of its release, with Canadians at war in Afghanistan, is pure coincidence, Gross said, since he started writing it when the Soviets were still there. But at root, Gross said, "I'm intensely curious about the process of warfare."
We tend to think of war as inhuman and rare. In fact, Gross pointed out, it's been the rule, not the exception. The story of Western Civilization is written in blood, beginning with the Iliad. War also alters life during peacetime, he pointed out. Empires rise and fall, science, medicine and art all change, often for the better.
"Peace rarely produces much in terms of societal progress," he said.
But unlike the Greeks, the Romans, the British or the Americans (to name a few) Canada doesn't have much in the way of a warfare-based foundation myth. That's because, Gross said, "We are genetically indisposed to false mythologizing."
Passschendaele wasn't his attempt to give us that foundation, he just wanted to tell a Canadian story.
Here's hoping it's one that'll be heard over the roar of indifference displayed this morning.