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Canadian Cult Revue: Monkey Warfare; Work, Eat, Bike; Waydowntown

May 2010

By John Yemen, Lost Dominion Screening Collective

We christened the May 19 evening Slacker-Counter-Culture Triple Bill because all three films deal with the notion of rebellion and the different forms it can take – some sort of protest against “The Man” as represented by the capitalist and consumerist values that dominate modern society.

Whether it’s the subversion of the stoner-activists of Monkey Warfare, the seemingly aimless bike-riding protagonist of Work, Bike, Eat or the jaded corporate burnouts of Waydowntown, each film mixes different doses of comedy, angst and rebellion.

Monkey Warfare. Courtesy of Lost Dimninion Screening Collective

Director Reginald Harkema’s Monkey Warfare had great critical reception when it debuted at film festivals four years ago (winning a Special Jury Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006), but it barely made a ripple when it was released theatrically across Canada in 2007.  It has started to find a devoted audience on video, and we thought we would bring it back to the big  screen to give people a chance to enjoy the context of a larger audience. It’s a dark comedy, and as with most comedies, it plays better when you see it with a crowd.

Ubiquitous actor/director/writer Don McKellar is the film’s most recognizable face, but co-star Tracy Wright steals the show.  She’s a familiar face from such films as The Five Senses and the McKellar-influenced Childstar, Blindness, and Last Night and has also guest-starred on Canadian TV shows.

A subversive love-triangle, Monkey Warfare is at its best when questioning not only the values of mainstream society but also those who fancy themselves rebels against that society. In a time when there’s no large-scale protest movement, and few people express their activism outside of joining Facebook groups, the film has found an even deeper relevance in the few years since its release. Someday it may be regarded as a minor classic. For now, it’s a stellar Canadian cult-film, and a lot of fun.

Work, Bike, Eat. Courtesy of Lost Dominion Screening Collective.

Work, Bike, Eat, directed by Keith Lock and James Anderson, was produced in 1969 and released in 1971.  Lock and Anderson won a student prize at the 1970 Montreal World Film Festival for their documentary Touched; Work, Bike, Eat is of a similar quality.

It features a loose, realist narrative.  There’s some kinship here (as with Monkey Warfare) with the French New Wave movement of the 1960s, but it most closely resembles films that emerged from the American independent film movement the late 1980s and early 1990s with Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch. In that way, it was ahead of the wave, and watching it feels almost like discovering a hidden thread unifying the era’s counter-culture generation with our own time.

This is exactly the sort of film that the Canadian Cult Revue series was designed to bring to a larger audience. Lock will at this screening, and the print we are showing is his personal print, so don’t miss this rare opportunity to see it on the big screen.

Waydowntown. Courtesy of Lost Dominion Screening Collective.

Waydowntown is director Gary Burns’ (Kitchen Party, Radiant City) humorous take on his home town of Calgary, told through a contest among a group of co-workers to see who can stay inside the longest. Anyone who’s visited Calgary in the past 20 years will recognize the pervasive phenomenon of Plus 15, a system of elevated walkways connecting nearly every building downtown.

On my most recent visit to Calgary, I kept wondering where everyone was because the streets seemed curiously empty. Then I looked up and saw the Plus 15.  It felt a little like discovering a hidden city.

Similar to Montreal’s Underground City and Toronto’s PATH system, Plus 15 has been criticized for taking life off the streets and sealing it behind concrete and glass. It’s a wonderful invention – in the depths of February’s minus-25 temperatures – but the rest of the year it leaves something to be desired, creating the closest thing Canada has to a hermetically-sealed City of the Future. It’s an urban space that rejects the exterior life of the city.

A lot of comedic potential is inherent in such a setting, as is a certain amount of tragedy. Waydowntown takes that convenience-based conflagration of shopping centres, offices, apartment buildings and food-courts, uses it as a proxy for modern society, and poses the inevitable question: stay, or go?

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