Apr 1, 2015
dir: Zale Dalen, 1977, Canada, DCP, 14A, 95mins
Starring: David Petersen, John Lazarus, Mike Grigg, Rudy Szabo, Sue Astley
Skip Tracer is a free-wheeling private detective story set on the mean streets of Vancouver in the late 1970's, with the twist that the detective is a loan agency's debt collector hunting down “skips” who have stopped repaying their loans. The film stars David Petersen (The Grey Fox) in the role of John Collins, a collector trying to regain his status as his agency's “Man of the Year” while reluctantly mentoring a young protegé in the business. Propelled by Petersen's wry performance, the film plays like a post-hippie critique of capitalism and “The Man”, mixing together elements of social satire and film noir. The lighter comic touches help to highlight the harsh realities of people living beyond their means in a ruthlessly monetized society, where the bonds of debt tie together debtor and creditor in a precarious dance of ambition, greed and (largely masculine) pride and shame.
Skip Tracer was the feature film debut of director Zale Dalen, who went on to a long career in Canadian television. The film played at the Toronto International Film Festival and in major cities around the world, earning its money back in its initial run, but since then it has suffered from haphazard distribution and has mainly been kept alive as a cult title through VHS distribution (often under the alternate title “Deadly Business”), or16mm screenings, and rare appearances on TV. More well-known in England and Germany than in Canada, it has nevertheless been rediscovered by Canadian audiences in recent years thanks to select revival screenings such as the one held at the Ontario Cinematheque in December 2006. At the time they described Skip Tracer a “Canadian classic”, and we're not going to argue with that description.
In cooperation with Zale Dalen and Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Ottawa's Lost Dominion Screening Collective has procured a brand new 4K digital transfer from the 35mm preservation master print held in LAC's film collection. This will be the best print of the film screened since its 1977 debut, and the audience at the ByTowne Cinema will get to see it first. It will be a great chance to see an under-appreciated West Coast cinematic gem.