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Helicopter Canada (1966)

by on 2013/07/23

helicopter_canada“Show the old girl warts and all.”

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Take some bumpy aerial footage, offensive narrative about Canada and Canadians, a condescending narrator, audio of children musing aimlessly, and what do you have? You’ve got the 1996 documentary Helicopter Canada, a piece compiled to celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967.

Let me first say I profoundly admire the attempt here. This can’t have been easy to compile and create. A camera person dangling out of a helicopter has to be right up there in the actuarial scale of highly probable premature fatalities.

Some of the footage is really compelling. Shots of combines harvesting wheat in the Prairies, trappers picking up frozen animals on a barren snowscape, people scooping up fish on the Bay of Fundy.

It is always nice to see our home and native land from a great height. However, as I watched the Oscar-nominated Helicopter Canada my simmering concern that we were all being portrayed as a backward race, rooting around in the mud and snow for tubers and seal blubber, grew to a boil.

The focus on us living frozen hand to frozen mouth was definitely there. The film lingered on endless shots of ice and snow. It went for the cheap joke about our national symbol being the beaver, an animal known for its stubbornness. The implication being we Canadians are plodding and stubborn, I guess.

Best of all, this piece was sent out internationally to position Canada in honour of our 100th birthday. Great …with us sending filmic postcards like this, no wonder folks abroad still ask if Canadians still live in igloos.

The copy even used third-parties to diss Canadians, noting that Prince Phillip once said, “Canadians aren’t as fit as they could be.” Was that strictly speaking even necessary? It made me like the royals even less – if that’s even possible.

The music is good though, very swinging pre-70s. It was fun to see Toronto pre-CN Tower, the Haida totems on the Vancouver coast, the 1,000 Islands of Ontario.

The pictures, however hinky and shaky-cam’ed, are quite lovely in parts, but the commentary is kind of unforgivable. “It has been said that Canada is the largest underdeveloped country in the world …that she has the cultural development of Afghanistan …the climate of Siberia.” Really?

Like a time capsule made by a depressive who hopes that his/her remembrances won’t take up too much of the finder’s precious time, this documentary is as much of a monument to our national insecurity as it is to the majesty and beauty of Canada.

After we screened Helicopter Canada, we felt it necessary to cleanse the palette and watch an entirely better cross-Canada exploration, One Week which is as quietly confident and ennobling as Helicopter Canada was cringing and apologetic.

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Watch the whole film here.

50 minutes


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