July 5, 2018

SCREEN | Documenting Our Visual Heritage – O 'Design Canada'

Greg Durrell | Design Canada

Canadian identity is fascinating in its subtle visual clarity and consistency. Vancouver graphic artist turned filmmaker Greg Durrell uses the minimalist and timeless principles of mid-century graphic design to explore how our country's national symbols developed artistically throughout recent history in his illuminating first documentary film, appropriately titled Design Canada.

Needless to say, a documentary all about exploring iconic (somewhat Swiss-inspired) modern graphic design and national imagery needed to look good and reflect the quality of the visual material featured. Gladly, the film is crisp, clean, and is sharply filmed and assembled. Design Canada, the film itself, is a work of good design from how the interviews were filmed, presented, edited, and the way pieces of artwork are dissected and laid out narratively.

Using Canadiana as a jumping off point for contemporary ideas of "brand identity" and synergy links the more casually designed past with the current all too self-aware present of stylistic works. How nationalism and patriotism played a role in Canada's brand history tells a clear story and is told rather fluidly. Durrell's deft directorial hand makes the conventional documentary storytelling pop with a subdued interest.

How the post-war cultural birth of Canada after the 1960s was largely responsible for our current historical visual references of what Canada means is truly remarkable. Durrell is able to more than competently put that history into a digestible package on the screen.

Greg Durrell | Design Canada

In-depth highlights and recent historical commentary into how famous Canadian logos and brands were created then evolved over time include obvious examples from the CBC, CN Rail, and our now iconic flag to popular brands or corporations like Roots, Royal Bank, and even the federal government. The background details fill in how Canadians are seen and what it means in the design of our modern society.

The film puts everything into a proper context as told by not only the original designers of famous Canadian symbols, but also contemporary Canadian figures like artist Douglas Coupland, journalist Hannah Sung, broadcaster George Stroumboulopoulos, and other notable figures.

With a crisp and clean finish to it, Design Canada tells an interesting untold story of Canada's modern history through golden age of design. How Durrell, a graphic designer himself, encapsulates our collective identities by compiling then expressing post-colonial corporate imagery is fascinating and visually intriguing.

Design Canada premiered at the Rio Theatre and is currently screening at The Cinematheque.

More | YVArcade / Globe and Mail / POV / Straight

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