In the latest Maclean’s magazine, Brian D. Johnson writes a perfect summation of what is wrong with English Canadian filmmaking: not one thing, but several – and most paths lead back to the government-backed, taxdollar-fuelled funding agency, Telefilm. The article in question isn’t available online, so I suggest you purchase your copy at the local store.
Titled “The Lost Picture Show”, Johnson articulates exactly the frustration amongst established and independent filmmakers who’s goal is to shoot commercially accessible films; this stands in contrast to the long line of edgy/anti-hero ridden/low-key releases which have largely gone straight to video with little mainstream acclaim and fewer people who could vouch to have seen them.
As Johnson notes in his interview with Paul (Due South, Men With Brooms) Gross:
‘English Canadian cinema is wedded to an auteur model based on the early festival breakthroughs of some “really terrific filmmakers like Atom Egoyan.” Then [Gross] adds, “It’s been stuck in that mode for a while. Festivals are composed of audiences that you never see replicated in a normal theatre. We’ve hidden behind this intellectual rampart. And we end up in this perverse situation where we assign to any failed film a great deal of intellectual integrity.”‘
As much as I love/support/appreciate the dark, edgy and ultimately hard-to-market work of filmmakers such as Guy Maddin, I admit that it cannot be our only cultural sustenance. We cannot survive soley on a meal of dark introspection (though it makes for such a wonderful – somtimes necessary – dish from time to time).
The thrust of much of the article is the war between producers, distributors (roundly accused by many of taking the money and running), and the English-language arm of Telefilm – whose opaque methods and logic would astound even The Knights of Templar.
As would be predicted, the producers want distributors to take more risk (to discourage the habit of flipping their investment by selling broadcast rights to films and then spending a fraction of their profit on a weak/token theatrical release that no one will see), the distributors want everyone to take more risk, and Telefilm, recently headed by semi-autonomous robot Wayne Clarkson, can only field the disgruntlement by reacting not like the head of a company (as we would expect) but like your typical corporate lackey:
“Is there any issue? Absolutely. Is the present system working? Not to the degree that we all wish it would. Do there have to be changes? Absolutely.”
Great stuff, Wayne.
Some modest suggestions of my own:
1) Non-Quebec film exhibitors must be obligated to devote 10-15% of screen time to Canadian-made features (English and/or French-language). If Can-Con (Canadian content regulations) can apply to radio and television, it makes perfect sense that theatres should shoulder this as well.
2) Telefilm should drop the “envelope system” (whereby a successful film’s producer is granted a no-strings $3.5 million each year for three years to invest as he/she wishes). It only leads to the anemic creative impasse we’ve been stuck with for the past 10 years: the same people support the same people and there is no incentive towards quality or success.