Daniel MacIvor

Queer Canadian Content

“Our stories are different, our concerns are different. We have a different relationship to the earth, we have a different relationship to our First Nations communities. It’s a different type of story that we tell here.” -Daniel MacIvor on what makes Canadian films unique

It’s not enough to call Daniel MacIvor a pioneer in film and theatre, he also has deep roots in our Canadian queer history having been involved with LGBTQ activist organization Queer Nation. What makes a Canadian film Canadian, what makes it queer, and can it be both without attempting to be either? Films made here versus those done south of the border are made with differing objectives in mind, and in a recent interview with Daniel MacIvor he echoes this difference, he makes a case for why films made in Canada should be a bigger point of pride for us. We also discuss how the current cultural shift away from colonialism is impacting LGBTQ films and filmmakers, as well as a glimpse into MacIvor’s latest film.

Helkio: What’s the biggest obstacle for Canadian filmmakers?
MacIvor: Caring. Audiences come and look at Canadian film up against American film – we can’t really do that. So we’ll go see the American film because it has more shiny things in it. You really shouldn’t come to Canadian film looking for shiny things. We haven’t spent a lot of time cultivating an audience but we do waste time with things like the Canadian Screen Awards, which I’ve won one and that’s really nice, but at the same time that’s not our nature, we’re not award givers as Canadians. We should just have a big party, give everyone a meal, celebrate a couple of movies that we think are good but not make it a competition like they do in the US.

It’s difficult because you make films in this country and everyone gets really excited and then no one supports it. The people won’t really see it in the theatres, they want to go see American films, so I guess apathy is the biggest hurdle. And one’s own apathy. It’s really hard to make a movie when you feel like no one will see it, that’s the most difficult thing. But some days it doesn’t matter, some days you realize it’s not about numbers, it’s not about how many people see your movie, it’s about who sees it. Those lives are transformed one at a time, not in groups of hundreds. 

Thinking back to your residency at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, what has been your biggest takeaway from that experience?
It was a home, it was a wonderful home, and a wonderful place to make work. Audiences knew what to expect. When you came to Buddies you knew you were going to get a certain kind of thing, so audiences came confidently. They knew they were going to get what they were looking for and so you always felt the audience was on your side from the beginning. There was warmth and you always felt supported. You don’t see this a lot in English Canada, you see it more in French Canada where you’ve got a theatre and a bar, so as an artist your social life and your work life are really connected. Buddies had understood that, it was smart and there were people that would come to the bar and never know there was a theatre, so it was smart entrepreneurially too.

What do you know now, that you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Stop trying to please people who don’t know what they want. Making money and making a movie are different. Hollywood has figured out how to make movies that makes money, but that’s not what we do in Canada. Storytellers, that’s who we are. There’s a difference between being a real estate agent and a cabinetmaker. We’re cabinetmakers here, we’re not real estate agents. And the more we try and model ourselves after that American idea of filmmaking then it’s either just going to water down what we do, or we’ll forget how we tell stories.

How did House go from a play, to a feature film?
We were going to do a film on the cheap, we were going to do it for something like ten thousand bucks, a crazy gorilla film, and then the Canadian Film Centre became involved and we ended up doing it for $750,000, so it changed what the idea was. I’m still always interested in what that ten thousand dollar film would have been like. It was an ongoing thing for me about how we watch things. Ultimately, I think it’s central to everything I’ve done, it’s a conversation about how we watch things. I think House is about how we watch people, how we watch movies, how we watch stories, how we hear stories. As I get older and I look back I see that a lot of the essential concerns of the work I’ve done since then are all contained in there. At some level you think “I didn’t know what I was doing” because I was so young, but at the same time you show everything. You show the thing that you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life without knowing it. 

Do you think it’s any easier now to be an LGBT filmmaker than it was when you started out?
No. The dismantling of colonialism is changing things a lot. When I started out I was right in the very heart of indie filmmaking, it was a really exciting time, there was a lot going on and I identified as queer, alongside Queer Nation and that was really an umbrella for everybody. Now we’re divided into these tribes which is great because people who didn’t have a voice before get a voice, but at the same time it does separate us. 

So where is LGBTQ film now?
I am not identified by my queerness, my queerness is part of who I am, I don’t lead with it. At the same time, everything I do is queer as fuck. Everything. There’s queer people in it, at the front of it, and there’s queer peoples’ stories at the very centre of it. I’m still able to make those films, it’s not easy but…. no, it’s not easier. Nothing is, it’s really hard to do things when you’re standing in a house that’s on fire.  

Are you mentoring anyone right now?
I have a couple of young people that I was working with unofficially who I met through my residency at University of Western Ontario last year. I also did some mentoring through the Toronto Public Library, I got them interested in Rhubarb at Buddies and then involved in their young creator’s unit.

What’s next for Daniel MacIvor? He’s working on a film about “three old gay guys in the woods” called Vic and Duke Go To The Store and by press time for this article they’ll have already sat down with the actors for the first reading. 

 Photo courtesy by GGA
Originally published in SummerPlay Magazine, 2019