Review: ‘Escape To Canada’

Taking as its hot-button thesis the provocative notion that Canada, and not the U.S., is North America's pre-eminent freedom-loving country, documaker Albert Nerenberg's "Escape to Canada" is a proud, benevolent, mischievous and altogether winning portrait of a country.

Taking as its hot-button thesis the provocative notion that Canada, and not the U.S., is North America’s pre-eminent freedom-loving country, documaker Albert Nerenberg’s “Escape to Canada” is a proud, benevolent, mischievous and altogether winning portrait of a country where same-sex marriage and public dope smoking are OK, where young Americans have gone to avoid military service since Vietnam, and where jibes against America are done in good fun. Pic should escape the Great White North to international fests and could do some bigscreen biz, with tube play and DVD presence likely.

In 2003, helmer Nerenberg noticed the same-sex marriage debate and marijuana decriminalization were both coming to a boil at about the same time. Coupled with the new influx of Iraqi war vets and conscientious objectors from the United States, Nerenberg perceived a trend: Normally “boring, boring, boring,” he muses, our “cold country started to heat up.”

Illustrating the national debate over these issues, he follows such newly-minted celebrities as self-described “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery, whose legal troubles barely put a dent in a motor-mouthed advocacy that finds him firing up huge blunts in front of government buildings as crowds cheer. “By the time he hits the stage,” says helmer, barely masking his admiration, “he’s usually stoned out of his tree.”

Profiling Canada’s passing of a same-sex marriage law and the subsequent celebratory nuptials, Nerenberg intercuts shots of Jimmy Swaggart with a snow blower. Later, he shows a group of young AWOL Americans trying on Canadian accents. “This is freedom,” he intones, “Canadian style.”

Nerenberg, a reporter and humorist whose filmography includes such provocatively titled works as “Stupidity!” and “Invasion of the Beer People,” adapts an “aw, shucks” approach to the material that couldn’t be further from the curmudgeonly approach of Andy Rooney or the incendiary whining of Michael Moore.

Tech credits are OK, with pic underscored by a variety of home-grown rock tunes yet marred by rather too many aerial shots of forests and waterfalls used to segue between subjects. For the record, Nerenberg prefers nighttime screenings of pic and encourages auds to experience his work in something called “Stonervision.”

Escape To Canada

Canada

Production

An Elevator Films, Canadian National Film Office production. (International sales: Canadian National Film Office, Saint-Laurent, Canada.) Produced by Shannon Brown. Executive producer, Silva Basmajian. Directed, written by Albert Nerenberg.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Shannon Brown; editor, Wolfe Blackburn; sound, Steve Barden. Reviewed at New Montreal Film Festival (Canadian Filmmakers), Sept. 19, 2005. Running time: 90 MIN.

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