In 1967, the government of Canada established the Canadian Film Development Corporation. In an attempt to stimulate the country’s film industry, the CFDC offered a 60% tax credit to investors who financed Canadian films that promoted Canadian culture. The movies made from 1967-1973 were very Canadian, featuring sensitive characters and Canadian locations. These motion pictures did poorly and couldn’t compete with American imports. In 1974, the CFDC changed the tax credit from 60% to a very generous 100%. With this change, Canadian filmmakers no longer had to make Canada-centric films, and were free to make movies that would appeal to American distributors. This also created a market for tax shelters—potentially fraudulent ones—in which the sole motive was to make a film in order to defer taxable income. The b-movies produced in the Great White North during this period (1974-1982) would come to be known as “Canuxploitation.”
The logo for canuxploitation.com
The first Canadian blockbuster to receive tax subsidies from the Canadian government was Bob Clark’s innovative slasher film, Black Christmas (1974). At the time, it was the most costly state-funded production in the Canadian movie industry’s history, with the government pitching in several hundred thousand dollars. It set box office records in Canada and did receive an American release, though it failed to make an impact, financially, stateside. Black Christmas was a high quality film, but many motion pictures from the “Canuxploitation” era are now seen as derivative of American movies, and others as complete trash. Firebird 2015 A.D. (1981) is a motion picture that fits both descriptors.
The film is set in the year 2015, when gas is so scarce the U.S. government has outlawed automobiles (it’s amusing to note that, as I write this at the end of 2015, gas is still so plentiful that a gallon of the stuff is cheaper than it’s been in years). In this ridiculous premise—why couldn’t the cars be modified to accept an alternate fuel?—those who still illegally own and operate an automobile (labeled “Burners”) are tracked down by the Department of Vehicular Control (DVC). One rogue officer, who seems more than a little off his rocker, changes into Native American garb and shoots to kill.
Character actor Darren McGavin plays rebellious gas guzzler, “Red.” McGavin, star of such television programs as Mike Hammer and the paranormal series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75), is probably best known today for his role as “Old Man Parker” in A Christmas Story (1983). He was an American with a familiar face, possibly cast over a Canadian actor so as to appeal to stateside distributors.
Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Filmed in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, the landscape—complete with corn fields—resembles Middle America, yet there’s nothing at all futuristic about the setting (other than that it’s post-apocalyptic looking, never mind there’s no mention of an apocalypse). Though branded a science fiction film, aside from the fact that it’s set in the future, there’s little in Firebird 2015 A.D. that brings to mind the genre. There are other elements incorporated, too, like the popular image of the American outlaw rebelling against un-American legislation (think Smokey and the Bandit), and there’s also a romantic subplot that takes up a good chunk of the running time.
Firebird 2015 A.D. has baffled viewers over the years. On the surface, it appears to be such a terrible film that it’s a wonder to many, and was even included in a documentary called The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. Here are a few excerpts from a review penned by a typically exasperated imdb user:
…it doesn’t make a lick of sense and everything about it is just plain stupid…See, this could have been the plot of a potentially fantastic post-apocalyptic adventure in the vein of Mad Max, but instead it became a really tedious, incoherent, unmemorable and extremely pointless Canadian exploitation effort. The film is a big fat piece of nothing, with chases that are lame and car stunts that are embarrassing. It even becomes worse when the script fully begins to focus on the developing love story…instead of on the rebellion against the system. The portrayal of the year 2015 is weak and cheap looking.
The reviewer is spot-on with these observations, but I think the key to what really happened with Firebird 2015 A.D. is missing from it and all the other reviews that I’ve read: It wasn’t meant to be any good. Though it was seemingly made to appeal to American distributors and audiences, it was likely produced solely as a tax shelter. Meaning, it just had to exist for investors to get that 100% tax credit. If the CFDC reviewed it, the government couldn’t deny the producers didn’t at least *try* to make a motion picture that was worth a damn, one that would interest the average American. Hell, the film is seemingly so pro-American ideals and anti-government it looks like something that could’ve been produced as propaganda by the Tea Party.
The site dedicated to Canada’s tax shelter films, canuxploitation.com, offers an explanation as to why a film like Firebird 2015 A.D., despite its nearly $1 million budget, looked so cheap:
Unfortunately, the tax shelter legislation which gave birth to this film boom was full of loopholes. Some of the less scrupulous investors began contributing large amounts of money for film budgets on paper, but then only allowing a small portion to be used for the actual production.
Though Firebird 2015 A.D. did show up in Canadian theaters in 1981, and may have played a U.S. drive-in or two, I couldn’t find any evidence it impressed an American distributor enough to gain wide release in the states. It did come out on VHS, but it seems no one has bothered to put this stinker out on DVD. Well, one was released, though it looks like a bootleg to me.
Watch the entire film—if you dare—below. If you do, be sure to pay close attention to the lyrics of the craptastic song playing during the opening credits, ‘cause if you don’t you might not be able to follow the plot! Well, you might not be able to follow it anyway. The pacing is slooow and many sequences defy logic. The most ridiculous scenes are when the DVC officers shoot at the cars, often a very close range, and miss nearly every time. Oh, and did I mention that Red’s American son speaks in a foreign accent?! It just goes on and on and on…
In 1982, the Canadian government reduced the film investment tax credit to 50%. The era of, ahem, “classic” Canuxploitation flicks like Firedbird 2015 A.D. was over.