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September 22, 2005 - The Montreal Mirror (CANADA)

Dream State

Albert Nerenberg Explores Our Country's Bold New Image In Escape To Canada

By Matthew Hays, The Mirror

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

For filmmaker Albert Nerenberg, the inspiration for his latest project was a very simple one. "It was just about timing," the Montreal native says. "Two summers ago, I realized that marijuana was being decriminalized at precisely the same moment same-sex marriage was being legalized in Canada."

And this, Nerenberg noticed, was drawing huge attention in the international media. The Economist was declaring Canada cool. Forbes was noticing our laid-back stances on the big issues of the day. And the American queer magazine of record The Advocate was informing their readers about how to get married in Canada. Add to this the Iraq war, which Canada abstained from, and you have a load of Americans of conscience dying to migrate across the 49th parallel and, as Nerenberg's title would indicate, Escape to Canada.

Nerenberg, whose last film was the hugely successful indie doc Stupidity, began to follow these stories and to interview people, armed with his camcorder. And then, he recalls, these stories began "to take off in insane ways," making Escape to Canada "a Frankenstein monster of a movie-there was no stopping it!"

In particular, Vancouverite Marc Emery, a pro-marijuana activist and the so-called Prince of Pot, began to have severe legal woes, getting arrested by Canadian authorities at the behest of the American government. For years, Emery has been challenging the constitutionality of Canada's pot laws, and has been mailing pot seeds across the border to Americans. Nerenberg acknowledges that, while this makes for fantastic drama, it also produces headaches -- now in extradition hearings, Emery's story is still unfolding.

Peace, Pot and Pride

Canadians have often identified themselves not by what they are, but what they are not. But Nerenberg says Canada's stances on these three key issues-same-sex marriage, marijuana and the Iraq war-has led to a renewed sense of identity and pride.

"Lucien Bouchard once famously remarked that Canada wasn't a real country," recalls Nerenberg, "and in a sense, I think he was right. But now we are a real country-we really stand for something.

"People have long thought of Canada as a boring country, and I think we are in many respects. But our boringness means we have a more reasoned approach to thinking about issues. Americans operate on hysteria. Decisions are not made based on reason. When an issue like gay marriage comes along, suddenly Americans are afraid that if this goes ahead in six months people are going to be marrying a mountain goat. It's hysteria and it's fear mongering, but within the American political system it has worked."

As Nerenberg captured various bits of footage, he said he noticed an interesting difference between the gay activists and the potheads. "The gay marriage activists were often a bit conservative, and thus didn't want to be lumped in with the marijuana activists. But the potheads were a lot more cool and didn't mind being associated with the gay marriage people. They were like, 'Whoa, dude, whatever.' In fact, the pro-pot people have really been taking their cues from the same-sex marriage activists."

Same Sex, Different Story

Nerenberg says he could not help being particularly moved by the fight for same-sex marriage. "To me, it really is the ultimate insult to tell someone they can't get married. How is it hurting someone else if two people of the same sex want to get married? The anti-same-sex marriage movement in this country was built with American money and American interests. It barely existed prior to Bush's re-election victory, where it was perceived that his opposition to same-sex marriage was a crucial part of his success."

And making Escape to Canada reminded Nerenberg of one of his previous films, Climate for Murder, his 1998 documentary examining the rash of homophobic murders that plagued Montreal in the late '80s and early '90s. "When we were researching that film, we got a huge file of crime photos from crime rag Allo Police. The murders were extreme and shocking. Opposing gay rights has very real repercussions for gays-they need to have full legal equality."

Still, for all the seriousness of the issues he's dealing with, in true Nerenbergian style, Escape to Canada is great fun to watch. "I recommend you watch this movie in Stonervision, with a crowd. Anyone who loves love and hates hate will want to attend. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll love your country."

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