Gary Burns' latest vision of dystopia is an edgy look at exurbia, this time with a documaker's eye. Helmer is at his slyest in "Radiant City," which views North American culture as an inevitable future and an archeological past of the petroleum era. Alberta-shot effort makes ideal fare for education and politically minded fests.

Gary Burns’ latest vision of dystopia is an edgy look at exurbia, this time with a documaker’s eye. Helmer, who has previously played with similar cultural tensions in “The Suburbanators” and “Waydowntown,” is at his slyest in “Radiant City,” which views North American culture as an inevitable future and an archeological past of the petroleum era. Alberta-shot effort makes ideal fare for education and politically minded fests.

It takes a while to get into the rhythm set up by Burns and journalist Jim Brown, which mixes real-life tract-home dwellers with social experts, including the articulate writer who sums up most suburban development as “brutal, depressing and spiritually degrading.” The pic gets gradually more absorbing as the drama seeps into everyday events, most notably when an ordinary dad takes part in a community musical his wife sees as “making fun of the way I live.” In the end, helmers have some nifty tricks up their verite sleeves, although there’s a marketing challenge when its biggest twist — about the pic’s non-actors — turns out to be something that can’t be publicized without wrecking the surprise.

Radiant City

Canada

Production

A National Film Board of Canada presentation (in Canada) of an NFB production, in coproduction with Burns Film. (International sales: the NFB, Montreal.) Produced by Shirley Vercruysse, Bonnie Thompson. Executive producers, Graydon McRea. Directed, written by Gary Burns, Jim Brown.

Crew

Camera (color), Patrick McLaughlin; editor, Jonathan Baltrusaitus; music, Joey Satiago; production designer, John Sherrington. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Canadian Images), Oct. 12, 2006. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Kyle Grant, Amanda Guenther, Daniel Jeffery, Mikeala Jeffery, Jane McFarlane, Curt McKinistry, Hong Cheng.
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