Radiant City
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Radiant City

2006, Society  -   48 Comments
Ratings: 7.48/10 from 21 users.

Radiant CityIn this feature length film Gary Burns, Canada's king of surreal comedy, joins journalist Jim Brown on an outing to the suburbs.

Venturing into territory both familiar and foreign, they turn the documentary genre inside out, crafting a vivid account of life in The Late Suburban Age.

Since the end of World War II, one of kind of urban residential development has dominate how cities in North America have grown, the suburbs. In these artificial neighborhoods, there is a sense of careless sprawl in an car dominated culture that ineffectually tries to create the more organically grown older communities.

Interspersed with the comments of various experts about the nature of suburbia, we follow the lives of various inhabitants of this pervasive urban sprawl and hear their thoughts. However at the end, there is a twist that plays on the falseness of the world in they live.

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48 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Anya

    Did anyone else HATE the ending?? I was enjoying it so much until the “reveal” at the end (I don’t want to give away too much).

  2. JJ

    esmuziq & frames

    It's the cost of doing heterosexuality and the traditional family bit. Women have got to be crazy to participate, and they end up crazier after being in it for a while. That's why there is alcohol and happy drugs.


    Just a way to push the Agenda and living on my own land is truly the only way to be sustainable no need to drive to the store if we grow it and where is the food going to come from ? control over every thing in our life no thanks !!

  4. Taboo Brains

    Hmmm. Very interesting documentary. Have to watch this for a class but I like it. Very much.

  5. teresa sumrall

    Almost all people can grow a vegetable plant. Plant a potato. Share the harvest with your neighbors. If we all grow a small garden and share with each other, we can grow community as well. I am grateful for the Top Documentary Film community. I learn so much, I have disconnected TV.

    1. Valentin Tihomirov

      Turning all people (engeneers, doctors) into farmers is a step backwards, toward stone age. Furthermore, you cannot do that on the loan around your cottage. You cannot even feed yourself with that plot. I wonder how many nonsense people can invent and destroy the civilization (dense cities, which allow for division of labour) to support their their favorite stupid lifestyle, which destroys the civilization.

    2. Kathryn Stewart

      Turning people into farmers has caused the collapse of the Soviet Union under Stalin, Disintegration of Cuba under Castro, Cambodia under Pol Pot and China under Mao Tse Tung.

  6. jimm

    Hello from Toronto. Most suburbs are incomplete like in this movie.
    Suburbs will only work if the residents work locally and dont commute 1 hour to downtown.

    So,, the suburb must have mixed-use development and high density, multi family housings. Jobs must come from suburban office parks but ALSO from high skilled areas like health and education, finance and retail. Jobs create network and communities which creates harmony.

    In USA, Canada Australia, home ownership is not only about economics but also social status. IN Europe, there is no stigma with renting in a city center. In North America, city centers have crime or cold winters. So the Suburb will continue in N. America because people there is plenty of cheap land unlike Europe.

    We just have to plan 'smarter suburbs' by bulding residences around schools and business plazas, to create more public spaces and community.

    1. Brandon Stevens

      right... because the suburbs in Canada don't have cold winters

    2. Valentin Tihomirov

      > the suburb must have mixed-use development and high density, multi family housings

      That is to say "snow must be hot to be useful". I wonder how you look for mitigating bad consequences of your criminal culture instead of giving it up.

  7. truthdigging

    Good doc. My husband is North American, I am European (Scandinavian) and we met in London. Soon after starting our family we briefly lived in Florida but although he managed to find a place in a decent neighbourhood (could walk to shops, playground) it was just this nightmare they depict here. I am completely urban, I don't have a driver's licence and never will. I became fascinated about this infrastructure, so I read Suburban Nation and It's a Sprawl World After All (recommend these!). We had to soon move back to Europe. He almost favoured Europe more than I did, he had grown attached to this life style. My parents always insisted living central, home and abroad, and I am the same way. Here kids walk to school from 1st grade, my ten year old often cycles to football practice, walks to the library, my eight year old has so many friends around he can access on his own, I can send them to the shops etc. There is a natural progression in the expansion of their boundaries. They have the right amount of independence at each stage. We live in a small but adequate townhouse with great amenities. We could've afforded a bigger house in the middle of a field somewhere but everything here is within walking distance plus there are trains and buses running everywhere. In the U.S. people want to have their own swimming pool, tennis court, playground, movie theater, pool table/games room etc. but we have the whole world open to us using the communal swimming pools, local pool halls, movie theaters and bowling alleys. It would feel too lonely and quiet to be so isolated.

  8. Peter McCartney

    Having grown up in Calgary, Alberta, the city where this was filmed... It's dead on. Great film, really captures the bleakness of fabricated suburbia. Although I had my suspicions about them being actors since I edit video for a living and could spot the "TV magic" hahaha.

  9. Twizzlehead

    Where shall I start? This is a very funny film. To paraphrase one of the "experts" pushing his PhD thesis, "People are going to have to change, whether they like it or not." This sounds much like my local government's planning department. A pox on all these modern social re-engineers.

    1. Valentin Tihomirov

      This is how you defend your right to sit around. You must not have such right.

  10. Ken

    So, I watched this last week,and have been thinking,and finally I've realized...this is great!A true satirical documentary that blurs the lines between detached cynicism and comic farce.A truly subtle rendering here,that puts a carnival-like mirror up to the increasingly dreary landscape known as suburbia.

  11. Zoe Biehl

    Didn't see the ending coming. Watching this makes me feel quite grateful for growing up poor in a small town where I had to walk everywhere and interact with real people. I plan on living in a tiny home somewhere rural and this definitely furthers my dream.

  12. Dochi

    those are some really miserable people. Eastern europe rocks in compare to this.

  13. kiraak miabhai

    When I migrated to America from an Indian city where I literally had about nine friends in my street; if I add up my school, relatives etc friends, it would add up to a 50 easily. (Trust me it has nothing to do with population, its just how it is, ask any Indian person lol).

    After moving to American suburbia (my uncles house), I bought the whole idea of living alone, individuality and the like. I really admired the playgrounds at mosques and how they associate it with community activity or community get together. I totally bought the idea that the "system" is very organized in America.

    Its been six years now, the only friends I know are my cousins. The only neighbors I know are my cousins. I barely meet them once a week because of our work schedules, etc I have always blamed this on racism or cultural differences or american lifestyle. All this time, it had never occurred to me that this has been a synthetic/experimental and manufactured society since day one. This movie/documentary was an eye opener for me.

    1. 0zyxcba1

      @ kiraak miabhai,

      I am truly pleased to have read your comment.

      So very many people in the world believe that there is something enviable about our 'American Way of Life'. This is especially true for the peoples of countries trying to make ends meet. Little do some of them realize that many of the difficulties they face are a direct consequence of the 'American Lie'.

      I live in the United States but have also lived in many other places in this world. I know many immigrants here, some quite well. Many of these people, my friends and neighbors, have come to America from places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. Sure, when they manage to get here, they are thrilled, thrilled to be finally free and clear of their homeland, destroyed by Corporate-America take-overs of THEIR property!!! backed up by American installed juntas, American orchestrated coups and American financed death squads. Sure they are 'thrilled'. But fast on the heels of the initial 'high', comes the hangover. My immigrant friends, neighbors, and acquaintances have all quickly come to realize that it ain't all what it's cracked up to be. Certainly, they do not wish to leave this country, but that's not because they love the American Sterile Way to the Grave. It is, rather, because the rich cultures they've left behind have been rendered unfit for human life due to American interventions on behave of the filthy corporations which have stolen their countries and are now setting about to steal mine!

      At least you have finally come to know the darkness.

      That having been said, here, and there(sometimes where least expected), you will find good, honest and open people. Americans are not bad people. We have been experimented upon by a system run by crooks in whom we naively placed out trust. We have been lied to. Used. Managed. We Americans are no longer human 'beings'. No. We are now nothing more than human resources and/or consumers. Do not think for a moment we don't see it. We do. But what to do? There is such a thing as 'too late'.

      It makes me weep to think of America's potential and to then be forced to witness the waste: 2% of the world's population consuming a full quarter of the world's energy in order to create... to create what? Bombs! Fighter jets. Weapons of mass destruction. So many military bases we cannot even count them. No one could possibly pose a threat to us. And, anyhow, why would they want to, had we not screwed them over? We waste everything we have to keep the 'War Business' in business.

      Before the war on Iraq, a joke floated about town, where I live:

      Sure Sadam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
      And, what is more, we can prove it!
      We've got the receipts!

      I've got to stop, now, before I drive myself crazier than I already am.

      Kiraak, I urge you to watch The Century of the Self, here at Top Documentary Films(# 31 in the Psychology section). It's by Adam Curtis. It's divided up into four parts, each part lasting about an hour. It says it all.

      The Century of the Self
      Part 1 - Happiness Machines;
      Part 2 - The Engineering of Consent;
      Part 3 - There is a Policeman inside All of Our Heads, He Must
      Be Destroyed
      ; and, finally,
      Part 4 - Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering.

      Don't give up on us. We're not a bad people. We're just stupid.

      I'm Sorry.

    2. Guest

      One of your best post ever.

    3. Achems_Razor

      Yes, I agree with @Azilda: very good post, well done. But not all US people are stupid, just misinformed.

    4. Norm

      Thank you. Your post summed up many of the truths that most Americans don't want to see. Having descended from "blue blooded, Mayflower sailing, freedom loving, fair and compassionate Puritans" (another fairytale), it took many years to even begin to realize the truth about the way this country has exerted itself over the rest of the world. Frankly, I'm still bewildered at how I was so blind for so long.
      Wake up people! The shock of reality will eventually subside (couple of years for me) and the false comfort and pride that comes from believing that we are somehow saving the world from itself will be replaced by the comfort and confidence that comes from knowing the truth.
      The only thing in this country that has changed since the 1600's is the reach of our destructive influence. Now, instead of annihilating the Native American tribe across the river, we can destroy cultures anywhere on earth. Under the guise of freedom and justice they're really saying "Hey guys, we can turn a profit over there!!!"
      Some of us still have a lot of changing to do and some of us will never even begin. This site has opened my eyes more than any other source and most of that change has come through the comment section. The historical info has always been there, just warped by preconditioning.
      Sorry for the rambling and thank you again, all of you, for your comments.

    5. Guest

      It is very hard for a population to see through the mean of the "machine" their life rolls on....and there aren't any country where this is not happening in one shape or an other.
      The US leads the way.

    6. 0zyxcba1

      @ Achems_Razor,

      Of course, AR, you are correct.

      We are not all of us anything like stupid, and perhaps I should have concluded in some other way.

      My only defense(and I concede in advance, it is a weak defense) is that, in context, the closing remark might be seen as poetically appropriate. But it was dumb, and I regret if I offended.

      I will in future take greater care in use of the 'poetic' :-).

    7. kiraak miabhai

      Thanks Ozyxcba1,

      You don't have to be sorry for anything. I have seen Century for Self like two times lol, Its not your fault. Its the ones who want to engineer our lives.

      To give you an example, before 9/11 in India, my friends I used to go out and paint "USA" graffiti on the walls and transh bins randomly(it was considered cool back then) for fun. We were really shocked the day 9/11 happened and some mosques even organized prayers for the victims. But post 9/11 Indian media (who doesn't censor or has no reason to fabricate like American media) showed us the real footage of deaths of innocent women and children of Afghanistan. Over night all the graffiti's on the walls and trashbins was disappeared. America's status for muslim teenagers from COOL moved down to ENEMY/SATAN. Media was the real engineer, one side it portrayed muslims as terrorist on other side it portrayed Americans as the ones who love to bomb innocent women and children. However, I knew Americans are not satan because I have relatives living there.

      I do have friends in college who I have invited over and go out with once in a while, but these are temporary and limited only to college. I have friends at work who I play xbox with, once in a while.The only things we talk about are - how our college projects/professors suck or movies/music or how we are treated like slaves at work. There is nothing organic or natural about it, it looks as if we are put in a situation and we have joined together to deal with it otherwise we wouldn't give a crap about each other. Interestingly we also admit that after graduation we will never get to meet again (no remorse on losing a friend).I was just summarizing my overall experience.

      I hope more people watch these documentaries and turn the T.V off.

  14. kelly_d

    I thought something was weird when the car conveniently broke down. Also, that Mother was a huge bitch, also most too bitchy to be real...

  15. KsDevil

    A chastization on monoculturism and a plead for polyculturalism. The cookie-cutter subdivisions encourage cookie-cutter mentality. Yes, people are all different, but it's the encuragement of similar thought in similar environments that seems to give people that certain air of , well, boring.
    Aside from that, I dispise neighborhood associations and ridged cosmetic laws that come with these manufactured "communities".

  16. Spencer

    The documentary is interesting for me. I grew up in a small city in Ontario, Canada with a population of 22000. I lived in something similar to a suburban neighbourhood but because it wasn't such an isolated community and didn't have the endless suburban sprawl as shown in the film it didn't really feel quite as surreal.

    I remember going to Arizona when I was 8 to visit my grandparents and my first thought on seeing all of the suburban sprawl was 'why do all these houses look the exact same?' Even if the ones back home had similar designs they alternated every now and then or had fairly different paint jobs and windows.

    I'm been in Ottawa now for University and I've randomly ridden on the buses without really any destination in mind a few times just to get a feel for the city. I can tell which areas are older and to some degree how the city developed. One of the more interesting things I've noticed is some of the main streets, mostly the ones going north-south have a lot of old urban style businesses and shopping such as Bank St or Preston. At the same time there are a lot of off shoot neighbourhoods on side streets where the places are easily accessible. This isn't downtown Ottawa either, it is pretty much the middle area of the city. it is only once you get past that section that you start seeing the suburban development sprawl and no local stores.

  17. RiverCola

    I'm so happy to live in a traditional Europian city, 5 minutes by bike from the city's center! I bike my way to work in three minutes, walk to the grocery store, bike or walk to visit friends, to have dinner at a nice restaurant or to go shopping, seeing a movie or a theater play. All is integrated within a compact and vibrant area.
    I live in a 'shopping street'. Every morning when I hit my bike the owner of the veggie store beneath my house says goodmorning. On saturdays I usually stop by the furniture design store across the street to exchance news, and chat a little bit with the owners.
    We have a car but we only use it to get out of town or just once in a while to get lot's of groceries. Our home is smaller than a suburban single family home but I'm happy with it, it's my nest.

    I really feel part of a community and it makes me feel good!!

    1. grampathom

      It is good to be you.................cheers

  18. cezy

    Such a good film! The twist at the end makes a lot of sense... I thought they were all a bit too smart...

  19. Tara Foster

    good message though...

  20. Tara Foster

    humm... was super good until I found out it was a film and not a doco... slightly misleading... if it was brought to my attention at the beginning, i would have enjoyed it more...

    1. cmatt111

      why wasn't it? it uses first hand interviews with those experienced in the different aspects of suburban life. Along with expert interviews with those experienced in the different aspects.. real-estate, history, social elements...

  21. Gary V

    An interesting doc with a good twist at the end, especially because I live in the UK. Although I did live in Florida for nearly 2 years just over 20 years ago & have witnessed this type of housing & we too are now moving towards this type of social structuring. It's good to see the way we are heading, I notice a lot of the subjects brought up in this doc happening now over here. There will always be the need for more housing & I don't know which is the right way to go forward with this, but maybe we can learn something from docs like this & make the necessary adjustments to improve on it.

  22. sunre

    This is totally worth watching and it confirmed everything I thought about how suburbanization has changed and alienated humans ...from each other.. and it does it better in some ways than other documentaries..

    If you watch it, the very unexpected twist at the end will help you understand the way suburban lives are seemingly conformist and interchangeable.. it is very challenging to our concept of individualism.

    Also, if there is one criticism, i will say that the man in the light brown suit and tie doing some intermittent monologue does himself a disservice because his sarcasm and embellishment detracts from the very important points he is trying to make, which need to be made and could have been made better.

  23. Orion Dillon

    reminds me of upscale slums...maybe one day it will be

  24. leonardobdas

    don't forget that this is a mockumentary... the family portrayed here are actors. the social commentators and real though

    1. Gary V

      Yeah nice way to spoil the twist at the end for those who haven't yet watched it & miss the whole point of doc. Well done.

  25. Paul Nelligan

    hmmmm, weirdly enough, all of the actors seem very normal, happy,and balanced in real life - which kind of defeats the message that suburbs are unhappy places ... I think the central point (i.e. urban planning and energy) is pretty valid though, and I enjoyed watching this, although am not as excited by 'the twist' as some would be - there comes a point when 'cleverness' just ceases to be clever - and I think that we've already reached that point ...

    This film further extends my belief that North American society is in need of some fundamental and profound change if it is to become in any way sustainable ...

  26. Peggy Nicholson

    i don't like suburbs either. but this is UN Agenda 21 propaganda. it is not about 'sustainable development'. it is all about land grabs and forcing people off the land, including farms and other rural areas and into densely populated 'human habitats' where the rest of the land is off limits to humans. except for the rulers, of course. the goal is to abolish private property and personal vehicles. both of which are considered to be 'unsustainable'. easier population control. just as the family is now considered to be unsustainable. obama stated that we must accept global governance and global currency. this is why the UN was founded. to implement global government and population reduction. they do not care about humans, animals, or the environment. please check it out. agenda 21 is happening in your county right now. through ICLEI. check with your mayor or board of supervisors. and here are some links for more info. the UN charter is superseding the US constitution. that is the plan. representative government is considered to be a barrier to the implementation of Agenda 21. we must stop it before it is too late. thanks.

    1. cezy

      You can believe conspiracy theories, or look at the data on US energy consumption. The US uses on average 3 times more oil than europe and about 12 times more than India. The only countries that use more oil than the US are the arab countries (Qatar uses 3 or 4 times more oil than the US!), mainly because they have more of it! You might think that it's fair, because you are american and do not want to give up your high standards, and that's perfectly understandable, but, as oil might be running out (at some point it will, whether you believe it or not) we all have to find alternatives.
      Being forced to drive to get your groceries is not a good way of life. It's fine if you choose to do it, but you must have the possibility of walking or using the public transport, otherwise you are enslaved to you car.
      The UN was founded in 1945. Since then the world population has more than trebled, so if keeping it down was their intention, I would say they have miserably failed. Don't you agree?

  27. Guest

    L'office Nationale du film/the National Film Noard located in Montreal is a super duper great movie library. Their site offers tons of great free short films and others.
    At their location on St-Denis st. in Montreal, you can go watch a movie in a "car kind of seat" for two people, and a robot puts your movie in.

  28. Alex Jones

    You know what makes a beautiful neighborhood? Big, beautiful trees. Nice editing, especially the suspense where you think the brother and his friends are going to accidentally shoot the sister at 72:25 as she walks into the backyard. And then the twist, I was like, what the heck???? Now that was a trip!
    I wish they wrapped up with a final comment from that author of The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler; he was quite a character.
    Overall, this movie went off on too many trivial tangents and I feel I wasted my time watching it because it's a fake documentary. On the other hand, it reminds me that just because something claims to be a documentary, doesn't make it true, legitimate, or worthy. At least these filmmakers let you in on the illusion.

  29. leonardobdas

    what percentage of generation Y moms that are variants of that wacko lady? I say quite a lot...

  30. esmuziq & frames

    that woman is crazy lol

  31. pulunco

    That was different.

  32. StillRV

    First impression, they definately picked the perfect neurotic moron mom for this doc. As much as I hate big pharma and the psychiatric perscription mill, this softens my opinion a little.