It really is a fascinating experience screening Canadian films in different high schools across the country. Every community is different, every school its own living organism with its own rules, culture, style.
At one point a teacher sat me down and shared with me some of the history of the place. Her family had been there for generations and she prided herself on an intimate knowledge of the ages of her city. The precise origins of the name are lost in the mists of time but she favoured the story of a battle between the Sioux and the Cree in which the combatants faced off on either side of the South Saskatchewan River that now runs through the middle of town. At one point, according to my tutor, the healer from one of the tribes sensed a looming defeat and defected by crossing the river, losing his hat in the current. “Medicine Man’s Hat” was eventually shortened to the present day moniker.
Even more fun, and more easily documented, was the story of how in 1910 a committee of the city’s leading citizens hatched a plan to change the city’s name to something more dignified. Those who were appalled by the idea wrote to none other than Rudyard Kipling, who had been mightily impressed by the place when he visited a few years earlier, and his scathing response to the suggestion was printed on the front page of the Medicine Hat News, thereby quashing any future such initiatives.
As for the films, it seems the 800 students of Medicine Hat High got as much or more out of what they watched as I got from my teacher friend. THE ROCKET was a revelation to them, having had very little awareness prior to watching it of the Quiet Revolution and the history of Quebec-Canada relations. Afterwards they were treated to a wealth of further information from Dan Diamond, official publisher for the NHL and perhaps the most authoritative hockey expert in the land. Dan joined them via Skype from his Toronto office.
Another special highlight was the appearance in person of Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, fresh from their trip to the Oscars where they had been nominated for their lovely animated short film WILD LIFE (their second nomination!). Wendy and Amanda were generous enough to make the three-hour drive from their home in Calgary the previous day in order to speak to the young Medicine Hatters (?), guiding them through a brief history of Canadian animation while screening ten of their all-time favourite pieces.
In planning this event, the diligent RC team had the pleasure of alerting Albertans to the fact that they had such talented and accomplished filmmakers in their midst. They were always surprised and delighted to hear it, and that is a perfect symbol of what REEL CANADA exists to do: promote our own brilliant storytellers to the people who most need to know about them, namely other Canadians.