Oskee Wee Wee (William Pettigrew, 1968)

NFBIt’s Saturday and we’re now midway through week 5 of the Canadian Football League season. In tribute to bigger balls and fewer downs, let’s all enjoy William Pettigrew’s Oskee Wee Wee (1968), a fascinating examination of the CFL’s 1967 championship game and all its associated reveries. Oskee Wee Wee takes its name from the appropriated chant of Hamilton’s football fans, but their Grey Cup contest against the Saskatchewan Rough Riders takes a backseat to police bands, beauty contests, and parties – lots and lots of parties. Sharp-eyed CFL enthusiasts will even notice some Calgary Stampeders fans having managed to ride their horses in and out of a Woolworth’s, proving that some traditions, however ridiculous, never seem to die. And for the record, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won 24-1 and I still miss a 9-team league that had one team was called the Roughriders and another called the Rough Riders!

As per the NFB:

This documentary is a zany portrait of the particular fever that hits the city of Ottawa, Ontario, during Grey Cup Finals. The film is as much about the football game, where the Hamilton Tiger Cats face the Saskatchewan Roughriders, as it is about Ti-Cats fans and their infamous “Oskee Wee Wee”, the magical chant with which they exhort their team to victory.

Two More by Don Owen!

NFBWe return once again to the work of seminal Anglo-Canadian filmmaker Don Owen, “a bellwether of the times” who began his career with the NFB in the 1960s producing short documentaries.  First up (for my wife), is Runner (1962), Owen’s gorgeously crafted observation of Canadian distance runner Bruce Kidd. More than 50 years later, Runner feels fresh and galvanizing, achieving a vitality in its crisp narration, its enervating score, and its smooth tracking that only gets vaguely approximated at now between shills for shoes and sports drinks. Owen’s High Steel (1966) considers the role of indigenous peoples in American high rise construction. The film’s lively narration by Don Francks is based on interviews with Harold McComber, a Mohawk iron worker whose daring occupation is made relatable by the sincerity of his professional pride and his practical faith in family tradition.

As per the NFB:

This captivating short documentary profiles the young Canadian long-distance runner Bruce Kidd at 19 years old. Kidd eventually went on to win a gold and bronze medal the 1962 Commonwealth Games, and was a competing member of the 1964 Canadian Olympic tem. Directed by Don Owen (Nobody Waved GoodbyeToronto Jazz), the film is luminously photographed by John Spotton and features poetic commentary composed and spoken by the great Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden. The camera follows Kidd’s sprightly movements as he runs on piers, practice tracks, and finally, in an international race. Oblivious to the clapping crowds and the flash of cameras, he knows full well that in the long run it is the cold stopwatch that tells the truth.

As per the NFB:

This short documentary offers a dizzying view of the Mohawk Indians of Kahnawake who work in Manhattan erecting the steel frames of skyscrapers. Famed for their skill in working with steel, the Mohawks demonstrate their nimble abilities in the sky. As a counterbalance, the viewer is allowed a peek at their quieter community life on the Kahnawake Reserve, in Quebec.

Hockey … It was Inevitable

NFBHockey may not be Canada’s national sport but it is certainly its favourite pastime, and while the National Film Board of Canada may not be overflowing with films about hockey as some might expect, the sport has prominence in its collection.

I expect that almost any review of the NFB’s best and most representative films likely requires some space for Sheldon Cohen’s The Sweater or Le chandial (1980), a beloved animated short based on Roch Carrier’s popular story. (A line from the story even appeared on Canada’s 5-dollar bill from 2001 to 2013.) To The Sweater, I’ve matched two more films that emphasize the place of hockey at all levels of Canadian society.  First up is Leslie McFarlane’s Here’s Hockey! (1953), a celebration of the sport from small, outdoor rinks to hallowed ice palaces. Here’s Hockey! is propelled by newsreel narration and full of gee-whiz optimism. Rounding out this trio is Overtime (Marrin Canell, 1984), an examination of the sport’s spirit even in the face of the flesh’s failure, told with the aid of worn-out equipment and stubby beer bottles. Recreational leagues like the one in Overtime are a fixture of many Canadians’ lives, whether it be playing in them, cheering from the stands, or hearing about them by the office water cooler.

As per the NFB:

In this animated short, Roch Carrier recounts the most mortifying moment of his childhood. At a time when all his friends worshipped Maurice “Rocket” Richard and wore his number 9 Canadiens hockey jersey, the boy was mistakenly sent a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey from Eaton’s. Unable to convince his mother to send it back, he must face his friends wearing the colours of the opposing team. This short film, based on the book The Hockey Sweater, is an NFB classic that appeals to hockey lovers of all ages.

As per the NFB:

Featuring Jean Beliveau, this short film focuses on hockey from the inside out. Known as Canada’s national pastime, this film demonstrates why hockey is such an exciting spectator sport. From east to west, the connection between fans and players is evident in the excited cries of “we’ve won!” From Pee-wee to Bantam, from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to the big league pros, Here’s Hockey! shows what it takes to make a great hockey player.

As per the NFB:

This short documentary profiles a group of men from the Toronto Lakeshore Oldtimers Hockey Club. Although middle-aged, they still play the game with as much energy and passion as they did 25 years ago. They claim that playing hockey is more fun now than it was when they were kids, despite the toll of aches and pains, injuries, gruelling schedules and late-night partying. Cares and responsibilities are cast aside once they are on the ice, and the locker room becomes a haven of uncomplicated camaraderie and fun. In refusing to grow old gracefully, they feel they won’t grow up at all!

Les raquetteurs (Michel Brault and Gilles Groulx, 1958)

NFBThe NFB was largely an anglophone enterprise until the 1950s when its headquarters were moved from Ottawa to Montreal and efforts were made to encourage the participation of Québécois filmmakers in the NFB’s initiative. At the forefront of this francophone movement was MMC!‘s favourite Canadian filmmaker, Michel Brault, and his Les raquetteurs (made with fellow filmmaking icon Gilles Groulx and originally funded to be a 3-minute news story) stands as a seminal work of Direct Cinema, one that thrust Quebec documentary cinema into contact with the cinéma vérité movements of the United States and Europe. This ethnographic work celebrates the good-natured disorder and absurdist character of rural life in la belle province. We’d love to see more of Michel Brault in the Criterion Collection (Brault was cinematographer on Claude Jutra’s Mon once Antoine (1971)), and recommend the Michel Brault: 1958-1974 Works DVD set (another NFB collection waiting for a Criterion blugrade).

As per the NFB:

This short documentary records the celebration and ritual surrounding a snowshoe competition in Sherbrooke in the late 1950s. The film marked the beginning of a new approach to reality in documentary and prefigures the trademark style of the NFB’s newly formed French Unit. Today, Les raquetteurs is considered a precursor to the birth of direct cinema.  In French with English subtitles.

Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No (James Blagden, 2009)

Spring training is upon us, bringing to mind another Wholphin favourite – Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No (James Blagden, 2009), a trippy firsthand account of the Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher’s 1970 no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.  Blagden was commissioned with the project by Chris Isenberg, who discovered a 2-hour interview of Ellis by radio producers Donnell Alexander and Neille Ilel.  The interview, potentially Ellis’ last before passing away in late 2008, provides a moment-by-moment account of the right hander’s hallucinogen-powered triumph.  Candidly hilarious and cleverly depicted, Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No is a fitting tribute the one of the most notorious games in MLB history and one baseball’s great characters.

Brooms Up! (Larry O’Flahavan, 2011)

“Certain to please Harry Potter fans and people-being-brutally-knocked-to-the-ground aficianados alike.” Johnathan Grey Carter, THE ESCAPIST.

Drafthouse Films LogoOn November 13 and 14, 2010, 46 colleges, 750 players, and 10,000 spectators descended on New York’s Dewitt Clinton Park for the 4th annual Quidditch World Cup, a real life version of the fictional game featured in the Harry Potter books.  Larry O’Flahavan and Boxer Films came to capture the spirit of a game that is sweeping the world.  Somewhere between live-action role-playing, dodgeball, rugby, and team handball is quidditch – a co-ed, contact sport attracting a diverse collection of fans and athletes united by a love of J. K. Rowling’s popular series and the spirit of competition and fair play.  Brooms Up! tackles the unexpected intersect of sport and fan culture and lovingly examines the weird and wonderful world of this unique game.  Your seat in the top box has been reserved.

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