Souvenir of Canada - Chimo!

Alliance Atlantis
Duration: 70min
Category: Documentary
Available: On DVD
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I wonder if any other nation in the world struggles with its identity in the way that Canada does. I don’t know if there is another national identity that is as ephemeral as the Canadian identity, often found more on what it is not than on what it is.

For those of you who aren’t Canadian it may be impossible to understand. Often it is the experience of defining what we are not that helps us understand who we are.

Souvenir of Canada chronicles author Douglas Coupland’s (Generation X) work on the project Canada House, an installation focusing on Canadian collective identity. He took an old house typical in all regions of the country, painted everything white and filled it with objects that speak to the Canadian consciousness.

He published a book called Souvenir of Canada which collected a number of random thoughts of “Canadianess” and images which attempt to capture these things. Now he has merged these ruminations with his work on Canada House to produce a film that struggles with the same ideas.

However, often Souvenir of Canada is more personal biography than national identity creation. Coupland spend a lot of time on himself, his eccentric understanding of all things Canadian and his relationships with his family. Still, there is something very Canadian about this approach. It’s very personal, odd yet relatable.

Sure he throws all sorts of cliché Canadianisms at us from Terry Fox to separation referenda to bilingual packaging to road hockey as the sun goes down. He even touches on our latest obsessions like our progressive political policies. Still, it’s when he is most personal that he really hits the nerve.

Canadians never really get tired of debating these things and most will enjoy his unique vision of our country. His odd, almost grating voice and less than polished appearance only further comfort our sense of Canadianess. However I can’t imagine anyone from outside the country really getting it.

He talks about how Canadians make up secret, insider only “handshakes” that help us identify each other and bond. These things necessarily exclude the rest of the world and its these things he is placing in Canada House and which populate Souvenir of Canada. The images are laden with significance for the average Canuck but seem meaningless and random to an outsider.

Canadians probably prefer it that way.

Review By: Collin Smith

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