'Vancouver never plays itself' montage showcases perennial problem

Why doesn't Vancouver play itself in films and television shows?

The city is one of the largest film production cities in North America and like a chameleon, it has molded itself into every imaginable place from Seattle and India in Mission Impossible 4 to North Korea in The Interview. It's even wound up as the setting for Vancouver, Wash., but rarely does it play itself in film and television shows.

Tony Zhou, a filmmaker based in San Francisco, but originally from the Lower Mainland, put together a video showing just how art direction, lighting and visual effects help disguise and transform the city.

He created the video as part of an online video essay series called Every Frame a Painting, in which he looks at form and composition.

"I am a little bothered that Vancouver never gets to be Vancouver," Zhou told CBC News in an email.

"I suspect the big reason Vancouver is never Vancouver onscreen is just economic: Americans want to see themselves on movie screens and they are the biggest film-going audience in the world," he said. "Setting a movie in Canada immediately makes it 'foreign' to Americans, even though it's not that different."

Landmarks lacking

Zhou says Vancouver can be a great setting for a big-budget show, as it currently is in Continuum.

"A certain part of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Canadians, since we have this weird inferiority complex about our own popular art. You can see it in people's eyes when you recommend them a Canadian film; they start to lose interest, they think it'll suck, or they say 'I just want to be entertained tonight.' You can recommend someone a Canadian band and in general, they won't blink an eye. But a Canadian film? It's an ordeal."

Jerry Wasserman, a professor in UBC's department of theatre and film, agrees and says Vancouver doesn't have any iconic symbols that make it a recognizable city worldwide.

"It's very photogenic but what does it have that distinguishes it? The Lions Gate Bridge, the Gastown steam clock?"

Wasserman describes himself as a 'Vancouver promoter' but says he can see from an external perspective why it doesn't have an easy brand. On the other hand, he also thinks it's not a major concern.

"It's all make believe anyway and people shouldn't get too concerned," he said. "I don't mind if it remains all that anonymous."

After all, where else can you travel the globe without ever leaving the city?

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