Hart Snider mines high school masculinity for ‘Shop Class’
Many filmmakers are haunted by an image, a theme, or an era – some source of creative inspo that runs through their screen work like a single silver thread.
Think Deepa Mehta and her multiple deep-dives into South Asian taboos, Guillermo del Toro’s obsession with clockwork, Clint Eastwood’s explorations of white American masculinity, or Michael Bay’s propensity for explosions.
For Vancouver filmmaker Hart Snider, that single silver thread is 1980s Edmonton.
Snider lives and works in Vancouver now, mostly as an editor for documentary television series like Klondike Trappers, Ice Pilots NWT, and Yukon Gold; he also wrote and edited the deeply moving 2017 documentary I Am Heath Ledger.
But Snider grew up in Edmonton in the 1980s, and for the two short animated works he’s written and directed for the National Film Board of Canada, he’s pulled audiences back to that place and time.
“There’s just something about Edmonton,” he muses. “It’s north for a big city in a way that most of Canada isn’t, so culturally there are some unique things about it, and the 1980s were an interesting time there: because of the Oilers, because of West Edmonton Mall. The world noticed this city, for a few seconds at least.”
Snider’s first animated short film – 2011’s The Basketball Game – tells the story of an epic basketball game between kids attending Jewish camp and the students of a notorious local Holocaust denier. You can view the film here.
Snider’s follow-up to The Basketball Game has its hometown premiere tonight at the SPARK Animation Festival. This second film is entitled Shop Class, and is based on Snider’s experiences as an Edmonton teen forced to endure shop class in a school where shop class was for boys and home economics was for girls, end of discussion.
Shop Class’ protagonist – named Hart, natch – would much rather bake and sew than risk life and limb with power tools, but due to archaic gender rules, he’s thrust into a shop class run by a terrifying, tyrannical teacher with rigid ideas about what it means to be a man.
Fred Ewanuick (Corner Gas) voices all eight of the characters in Shop Class, including those of Hart and the grizzled shop class teacher (“Fred has this amazing skill that you can still hear the teenager in his voice, but also as an actor, he can learn a part like Mr. P and sound totally scary,” marvels Snider. “He was giving me flashbacks by the end of it”).
Snider drew some inspiration from the documentary series he’s been editing since the early 2000s, many of which – like Yukon Gold – he describes as “macho shows where people are in faraway places and it’s very cold and everything seems impossible until a montage gets them fixing a problem to some rock music and they save the day.”
The docu-series, adds Snider, are “fun to do, but also a bit silly, considering I’m not good with tools, I’m not macho, and I don’t like cold very much.”
Snider’s work in the realm of macho TV got him thinking about masculinity, and the grade 8 shop teacher “who tried to turn us from 13 year old boys into men through the use of tools.”
“I was working through this idea of masculinity and how much you have to buy in to being a certain type that he was trying to force us into, and in the film, the character’s journey is about gaining confidence,” says Snider. “It’s not about becoming a cookie cutter idea of what you’re supposed to be. I think that’s an important thing for everybody [to think about], but especially at that age.”
Thus, in Shop Class, Snider “tried to use some of the language of macho TV to tell a story about the most macho guy I ever met.”
If you’re unable to make it to Shop Class’ Vancouver premiere at SPARK, fear not: Shop Class will be released on the NFB web site on October 29 in honour of International Animation Day.
The 2018 SPARK Animation Festival and Conference is on now until October 28 at multiple Vancouver venues. Details at http://sparkfx.ca/