Radiant City: Radiant City lights up Calgary theatres

By Kevin de Vlaming

Radiant City will soon be bringing the surreal, artificial sensibilities of suburbia into theatres across the country. The film, billed as a documentary on suburban sprawl, unites the journalistic background of co-filmmaker Jim Brown with the cinematic experience of his filmmaking counterpart Gary Burns. Alliance Atlantis has secured distribution rights across North America, and Radiant City will be opening in theatres Fri., March 30.

“We set out from the beginning to do a theatrical film,” says Brown. “Gary and I wanted to make something that treated the role of where we live our lives, and we wanted to make it as entertaining as possible.”

The film performed extremely well on the festival circuit, garnering extensive critical praise as well as earning the Special Jury Prize from the Vancouver International Film Festival. While Burns had established a familiarity with cinematic success thanks to such previous films as The Suburbanators and waydowntown, the experience was entirely new to Brown.

“I had no idea what to expect from the festivals,” says Brown. “When we got to Toronto, which was our first festival, I was totally blown away by how much attention the film was getting. Similarly, I’m really looking forward to what the reaction will be when it goes theatrical, because I don’t know what to expect.”

Audiences can expect to see a light-hearted exploration into the ridiculously structured nature of new suburban developments. The filmmakers took an approach to the documentary which is both heavily formulaic and likely to leave audiences re-examining their experience of the film immediately after its concluding remarks.

“We tried to give the audience stuff to think about on a few different levels,” says Brown. “The suburbs are marketed in a way that doesn’t match the reality of suburbia, so we try to mirror that by playing on the reality in our film. The film raises questions about where you draw the line between what’s real and what isn’t real. Does truth have to be real?”

Despite identifying a clear target which they efficiently snipe at throughout the film, Brown and Burns harbor no illusions about the reality of new suburban developments continuing unabated despite ongoing efforts to bring their faults to light. One individual in the movie specifically addresses this, suggesting that the momentum behind the suburbanization movement is too great and has been building over too much time to attempt to halt it.

“They’ve been criticizing the suburbs since rich New Yorkers first started moving to New Jersey,” says Brown. “The reason we put commentary on the ineffectiveness of such critiques in the film was to show that we weren’t thinking that we were going to change the world with this film. Our hope is that people will watch the film and they’ll be entertained, and they’ll talk about what they saw. That’s basically all you can hope for.”

Brown also affirms that Radiant City is for everybody, from inner-city urbanites to those who have bought into the suburban craze in the new developments at the edge of the city. However, those who are more familiar with suburbs built before the mid-’90s would be especially likely to leave the theatre with a sense of disconcertment.

“I grew up in the suburbs, and I thought I knew what the new suburbs were like,” says Brown. “But I had no idea. They’re super quiet during the day because there’s nobody around on the streets, no trees, and therefore no birds. With most of them, you just see double garage doors, because that’s all that’s facing you. And so they have this weird kind of ‘this-is-how-the-future-looks’ feel to them.”

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