Looking Inward: Our Review of ‘Design Canada’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - June 25, 2018
Looking Inward: Our Review of ‘Design Canada’

Design Canada is a documentary that exceeds expectations even within its small niche audience. It captures the first two decades of Canada’s second century. It’s a time when graphic designers from all over the Western world helped shape Canadian identity and yes, that exists. That journey all started when Lester B. Pearson decided to found a commission to redesign what we now know as the Canadian flag.

Design Canada is honest about the dominance of white male voices and hands in shaping Canada. We don’t see that often in films about the past. Most of these men are from Central Europe who have been coming here before the Second World War. They found refuge in a government that fostered their talent and skills. We can see European influences through the minimalist aesthetic that’s omnipresent here.

Even its archive footage seems fresh through sound and speed, incorporating those elements subtly. It captures the forward thinking utopia that those decades seemed to have felt like. Director Greg Durrell shows flair during these segments. Through them he lets future generations see the pavilions in the Expo in Montreal. Canada was becoming a country that innovates and leads. This is more than just a nostalgic trip.

The movie talks to a lot of graphic designers from that time who worked through multiple mediums. Which helps contextualize both the Cold War and hockey, the latter being a sport that came from Canada. We are one of the representatives of the democratic world. And we as a country do have the potential to beat Russia. However, even things as silly as sports and sweaters help in that cause.

The Canadian design landscape wasn’t just full of Swiss men. The doc talks to female designers like Heather Cooper and Marian Bantjes. The former, of course, showed pre-Rephaelite ornamentation in her work. That is a counter revival to the futurist aesthetic of the time. She also designed the logo for Roots, one of the definitive logos that the film discusses and analyzes.

Lastly, it puts some focus on Montreal, which was the metropolis that attracted English speaking immigrant artists. It was also hotbed of Quebecois nationalism. The world and its countries had their own contentious divisions. Ours is between the English and the French, as reductive as that sounds. Of course, design isn’t the main solution to that problem. However, the doc shows how it helped the country heal.

  • Release Date: 6/22/2018
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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