Welcome to Canada.
That’s the name of the REEL CANADA program that began last year with one event and this year is growing like the US Space Program in the Sixties. This season a five-fold increase; next year who the hell knows? Ten events? Twenty?
It’s called the Welcome to Canada Program because it is aimed at recent arrivals to this country, whom we reach via their English as a Second Language classes. For this initiative we’ve begun to grow beyond our traditional high school audience to include special events for adult ESL students.
I can’t begin to convey how emotional these screenings are. The audiences – coming as they do from an astonishing variety of backgrounds and cultures – are so open in expressing their gratitude, their sense of literally being welcomed by these movies which give them an immediate sense of the fabric of Canadian life and the values we share as a nation.
Last week 600 of them came to the Eau Claire Cineplex in downtown Calgary to view two feature films of their own choosing: HOW SHE MOVE, the Toronto-based dance movie, and IRON ROAD, which dramatizes the experience of Chinese labourers building the railroad in the late 19th Century. (They were also treated to WILD LIFE, the wonderful Oscar-nominated short animation by Calgarians Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbes).
As it turns out, each of these films, in its own way, deals with the challenges that immigrants face as they try to build a new life in this country, and the audiences responded to that theme very viscerally. But the big thrill came when after the screening they found themselves face-to-face with the respective stars of the two features.
Jack Blum (right) and actor Luke Macfarlane (right)
Luke Macfarlane (known to many from his five-year run on the ABC series BROTHERS AND SISTERS) set hundreds of hearts a-flutter when he took the microphone after the screening of IRON ROAD. Many female audience members began their “questions” with comments like “You are very handsome” and “I would like to know if you are married” (By happy coincidence, Luke, who lives in LA, was able to take advantage of the REEL CANADA appearance to enjoy an Easter celebration with his twin sister Ruth, who moved to Calgary a couple of years ago).
Actor Dwain Murphy (left) and Jack Blum (right)
Over in another screening room, HOW SHE MOVE star Dwain Murphy caused a similar sensation with an equally enthusiastic audience. Dwain considers himself an actor not a dancer, so when someone asked him to show some moves, he dodged the request charmingly, “It’s called ‘How She Move’, not ‘How He Move’.”
Given how critical it is to our country’s future to open our doors to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants each year, it is clear that REEL CANADA has stumbled on a way to speed up their integration into Canadian society that is exciting, emotional, human, and (most important) fun. If last week’s audience response is an indication, I’ve no doubt that the “Welcome to Canada” Program will continue to grow by leaps and bounds.