Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Minutes are back

Robert Harris's "School Trustees" -- memorably riffed on in a Heritage Minute
Pity!  I couldn't make it to the launch of the new Heritage Minutes at the Royal in Toronto the other night -- hey, that historybloggers' social circuit gets busy! But the minutes are up on the Historica-Dominion website. (The Minutes were originally an initiative of Charles Bronfman's CRB Foundation, which morphed in Historica, which merged with the Dominion Institute, so it all fits.)

Maybe there'll be a Minute about inventing the Minutes one day.It would feature an actor playing the broadcaster Patrick Watson, who transforms a dull meeting by saying "mini-movies!" -- and then gets his way, damn the expense. I profiled Watson and the Minutes in the mid-1990s
The secret was finding how to leave things out. Or, as Watson puts it, "finding the dramatic nucleus." Where an historical documentary like the beautiful, much-admired American film "The Civil War" explains everything it knows, a Heritage Minute leaves a thousand things unexplained, undiscussed, barely evoked.  Its allusions just flicker by, and may not even make sense on a first viewing.  But like commercials or music videos, the Minutes appear over and over. The Foundation offers them free to TV stations, and since they confer valuable Canadian-content points, their total exposure nationwide now runs at more than thirteen hours of airtime every month. To your pleasure or fury, you may already know some of them by heart.
I wasn't in school, either as student or teacher, during the Minutes' heyday, and I probably wasn't a big watcher of the TV channels that needed to run them endlessly to score enough CanCon credits for their automatic licence renewals. I liked and admired the minutes, still do, but I actually did not see them that often. It was only in retrospect that I learned how many people had really been bathed in them during their youth.

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