Moose Jaw: There's a future in our past
was quickly recognized as a major work in Canadian experimental- documentary filmmaking when it was released in 1992. In the Art Gallery of Ontario retrospective catalogue Richard Hancox
(1990), Arthur Kroker declared “[it's] already a Canadian classic.”
Near the beginning of the film, Hancox sets up his film as a personal journey by constructing a montage of family photographs accompanied by nostalgic music. His journey — returning to the city he grew up in — rapidly broadens to include a consideration of Moose Jaw’s contemporary predicament. Once a key juncture on the cross-Canada railway and the largest city in Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw was in a steep economic decline by the time Hancox arrived to document it for the film. Municipal government and local entrepreneurs desperate to find alternative sources for economic development began a process of “museumization” (Kroker’s term), adopting the slogan “There’s a Future in Our Past.” The film can profitably be compared to American filmmaker Michael Moore’s well-known Roger and Me (1989), which uncovers similar developments in the former automotive industrial centre of Flint, Michigan.
Hancox includes all the elements of a sentimental journey — old photos, family reminiscences, old-timers' testimonies of Moose Jaw at the height of its glory. But the film’s tone is analytical, astringent and irreverent, particularly in its obtrusive use of non-diegetic sound and its framing of the city’s new “attractions,” such as a giant artificial moose erected near the highway by local “moose boosters” and a proliferation of small, often ramshackle museums.
Moose Jaw remains a frontier city, but is now on the frontier of a postmodern process in which a kitsch version of history offers the only viable economy — the economy of the roadside attraction.