ONTARIO-L ArchivesArchiver > ONTARIO > 2000-10 > 0972076389
From: "Renee Cummings" <>
Subject: [ONT] Canadian Histor Starts this Sunday at 8 PM CBC
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 17:13:09 -0400
Suppose to be both in French and English...
Aussi en Français à la télé.
History series proves difficult to judge
Shows begin Sunday, yet only two of 16 episodes finished
The Ottawa Citizen
CBC / Actors portray Iroquois warriors in the attack on Lachine,1689.
Behind the scenes of A People's History
This Sunday, CBC-TV begins broadcasting the most ambitious documentary
undertaking in its history -- a $25-million history of Canada told in 16
episodes over two seasons. Today, in the second instalment of a three-part
series, Citizen TV writer Tony Atherton previews the project's early
episodes. His coverage began yesterday with a profile of the series'
creator, Mark Starowicz. Tomorrow, he looks at efforts to create a Canadian
pop history through television.
In two days, CBC will begin broadcasting its millennial calling card, a
16-episode, $25-million history of Canada which has been hyped as a kind of
on-air justification of public broadcasting. But get this: only two episodes
have actually been completed.
While episode one, which concentrates on more than 10,000 years of Canadian
prehistory, has been sent to TV critics, the only other program available
for preview is episode four, airing Nov. 5, which covers the titanic
struggle between France and England in the late 18th century. Crucial
intervening episodes won't be completed for a week.
That leaves TV reviewers -- and the series -- at a distinct disadvantage
when it comes to judging the merits of Canada: A People's History.
The first two-hour episode, When The World Began, which premieres Sunday at
8 p.m, is likely to be the least compelling of the series, since it is
largely free of historic narrative.
And without seeing episodes two or three, which detail the rise of New
France and the flowering of a distinct Canadian people, it is hard to know
how effectively viewers have been prepared for the clamour of episode four,
Battle For a Continent.
Still, TV critics must bravely go where angels fear to tread. And so, based
only on what little has been set before me, let me say that A People's
History is blessed with beauty and heart, but has little soul. That is, it
is a magnificent history lesson, but not a stirring piece of television.
The beauty of A People's History is undeniable. Shot on state-of-the-art
digital cameras, artfully composed and lit, brilliantly edited, and rendered
in wide-screen format (a conventional television will display small black
bars at the bottom and top of the screen throughout), the series has a
striking cinematic look.
It is further graced by a suitably monumental score by composers Claude
Desjardins and Eric Robertson, creators of the haunting Black Harbour theme,
and, in its English version, the mellifluous narration of actress Maggie
Similarly, the series has plenty of heart. It took unfathomable courage for
the CBC to even attempt such a lavish and iconic series in an era of
downsizing and compromise.
And it took a ferocious act of will on the part of executive producer Mark
Starowicz to make sure the series wasn't nickeled and dimed to death during
the four years since it was first conceived. What's more there is a
evangelical zeal for the project, an unshakable faith in its essential
virtue, that seems to permeate almost every scene.
And yet, Canada: A People History lacks soul. It does not, at least in the
few hours available for review, resonate with that ill-defined but resilient
Canadian essence. It is almost always interesting, but seldom enthralling.
Maybe it can't resonate. The arena in which it labours is so vast (30-hours
in 16 parts to air erratically over five months this season and a similar
period next season), the acoustics can't be good. Telling the entire history
of Canada means producers have little time to linger on any one event; while
they make an effort to personalize the passing parade, the sweep of history
can't help but take precedence.
It doesn't help that the first half of the first episode of Canada: A
People's History contains almost no history. Rather, it is a lesson in
anthropology and folklore.
Dealing with the fact that the land we call Canada was populated before
Europeans stumbled up on its shore and began to acknowledge it in the
documents we have come to call history, must have been one of the greatest
challenges for producers.
What this episode does is tactfully acknowledge that the mythology of
aboriginal people IS history for some of them, in the same way that the Old
Testament is history for some heirs of the Judeo-Christian tradition. When
The World Began features actors like August Schellenberg and Tantoo Cardinal
playing the storytellers of various aboriginal nations. It then struggles to
wed their stories to anthropological speculation about the migrations that
brought the first humans to the continent.
A Salish tale about a people being delivered of their enemy when an
ice-bridge was formed across a great body of water is thus linked to
theories of an ice-age migration across the Bering Strait. The approach is
clever but laboured.
The episode offers a whilrlwind tour of diverse aboriginal societies and
traditions, but doesn't get into history, per se, until it deals with the
formation of the Iroquois confederacy in the decades before the first white
It's is a tedious begin ing, and efforts to spice it up (there is a grisly
dramatic re-enactment of a Huron torture ceremony) seem rather desperate.
The second half of the episode, which offers vignettes portraying the first
encounters between Europeans and aboriginal at various times and places is
more interesting, if somewhat disjointed.
The series' approach to dramatic re-enacment is to feature wordless snatches
of recreated events, punctuated by talking heads -- actors portraying some
direct participant or witness who speaks words mined from their journals,
letters and official reports. Thus we are witness to Jacques Cartier's rough
treatment of the Iroquois chief, Donnacona, and we hear from English
blacksmith John Jewitt about his period of captivity with the Nootka chief,
The centrepiece of episode four is, of course, the Battle of the Plains of
Abraham. It was shot two years ago in a farmer's field in North Gower with
100 musket-trained military "re-enactors" in the various costumes of the
military units of the time. The battle is representative of an overall
weakness: a little too much flash and fireworks and not enough about the
There are, in fact, some excellent performances in the episode, including
those by Robert Joy as Gen. James Wolfe and Guy Nadon as Louis-Joseph de
Montcalm, both of whom are represented as less than inspiring or inspired
Battle for a Continent tell some remarkable stories, including how Benjamin
Franklin incited aggression against the French in North America, and how the
British used rudimentary germ warfare against natives still loyal to to the
French after the fall New France, but it doesn't bring the era to life in a
way that will compel viewers to watch.
However, the series' chief difficulty may be its schedule. The series will
air nine of its16 episodes this season. But even these nine are divided into
two chunks: five between now and Nov. 12, and the remaining four in January.
What's more, not all the episodes will premiere in a Sunday timeslot. Two
hour-long episode have been hived off to Tuesdays. Although the CBC plans
two repetitions of each episode each week (one at 11 p.m. on the same night
of the premiere, and on on Thursday nights), the irregularity of the
broadcasts will try the patience of regular viewers.
List of Episodes
1. When The World Began (15,000 B.C. to 1800 A.D.), Sunday at 8 p.m.
Prehistory and first contact between aboriginals and Europeans. Two hours.
2. Adventurers & Mystics (1540 to 1670), Sunday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m.
Beginnings of New France. Two hours.
3. Claiming The Wilderness (1670 to 1755), Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 9 p.m.
Frontenac and La Salle. One hour.
4. Battle for a Continent (1754 to 1775), Sunday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. Two
5. A Question of Loyalties (1775 to 1815), Sunday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. United
Empire Loyalists. Two hours.
6. The Pathfinders (1670 to 1850), Sunday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. Opening of
Canadian west. Two hours.
7. Rebellion and Reform (1815 to 1850), Sunday, Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. Struggle
for democratic government. Two hours.
8. The Great Enterprise (1850 to 1867), Sunday Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.
Confederation. Two hours.
9. From Sea to Sea (1867 to 1873), Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. Turmoil in the
west. One hour.
Fall-winter 2001 (schedule TBA)
10. Taking The West (1873 to 1896), Riel Rebellion and National Dream.
11. The Great Transformation (1896 to 1915), immigration and boom times.
12. Ordeal By Fire (1915 to 1929), First World War and labour revolts.
13. Hard Times (1929 to 1940), The Great Depression.
14. A New World Order (1940 to 1957), Second World War and Cold War.
15. The Awakening (1957 to 1973), social and political ferment.
16. Brave New World (1973 to 1990), free trade and globalization.
|[ONT] Canadian Histor Starts this Sunday at 8 PM CBC by "Renee Cummings" <>|