By Rob Scherf
A great deal of fuss has already been raised over local film maker Aaron Sorenson’s Hank Williams First Nation. What raised filmgoers’ eyebrows in recent weeks is Sorenson’s tale of getting, or trying to get, funding for his project. No production company wanted to touch Hank Williams First Nation as it was, nor did they want to do a substantial script rewrite.
Entertainment writers across Canada have come alight, eager to expose the injustices in the Canadian film funding system when dealing with such a deserving film. Through the debacle, Sorenson has made one thing clear, he would never have compromised the integrity of his film in order to make it palpable to distributors–a fine sentiment and a heroic one too, if only Sorenson’s film were half as good as he thinks it is.
It’s no wonder Telefilm refused to put up money for Hank Williams First Nation, because Telefilm’s mandate, in Sorenson’s own words, is to “achieve box office goals.” In interviews, Sorenson seems dumbfounded as to why his film wasn’t offered the funding other Canadian films have in the recent past, oblivious to Telefilm’s implicit suggestion his flick just doesn’t have legs.
Despite the often dubious quality of our homegrown films, it’s not often one sinks quite so low as Hank Williams First Nation, simply because we have organizations like Telefilm which serve to block the production of insipid schlock. Only when such schlock rides into theatres on an unfathomable wave of self-funding can we truly appreciate film distribution agencies’ claims they are not the audience’s enemy.
Sorenson himself stands right at the epicentre of what has gone wrong with the film. He has, for some reason, imbued his film with the pacing and tone of an anemic CBC weekly drama. Story lines and characters drift around one another, seemingly unaware of existing within a cinematic time scale, while there is no character development to speak of. The numerous plot lines within the film rarely intersect, and also have no thematic connection; characters flow on and off screen, unintroduced, serving no real purpose, ghosts of past episodes. Truly, Hank Williams First Nation feels like only a small part of a much larger text, the kind where one tunes in week after week to find nothing ever happens.
Most irritatingly, Sorenson is content with this structure. It’s obvious he relishes in it, letting his actors ham up almost every scene, or allowing himself to bookend scenes with ridiculous bits of improvised Junior Acting Troupe business. Sorenson is so overjoyed to be making a film and have actors working for him he feels letting them run wild is enough, while all other elements of the film are left to atrophy.
It is infuriating such an unprofessional cut of film would ever be released to critical praise. In truth, Hank Williams First Nation is a laughable ninety-two minutes of celluloid, as instantly forgettable as a fluffy feel-good TV pilot. Instead of coughing up nine dollars, just flip on the tube, find the most brainless and tepid thing you can and enjoy Aaron Sorenson’s new Canadian masterpiece.