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Film distribution bill threatens NAFTA

Filmmaker Paul Donovan once compared the difficulty of making a movie in Canada to climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Faced with an indifferent public, harsh critics, limited funds, and foreign-owned movie houses, filmmaking in Canada is, by necessity, a labour of love. Canadian gems like The Barbarian Invasions and Nobody Waved Goodbye have succeeded because of steadfast determination. CBC Archives explores the birth and growth of Canada's film industry.

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Flora MacDonald, minister of communications, is playing a waiting game. Her proposed legislation, the Film Products Importation Bill, is being stalled. MacDonald's bill would alter the film distribution system and boost the number of Canadian films on Canadian screens to 15 per cent. As reported in this CBC Radio feature, Canadian moviemakers are thrilled. But American lobbyists are trying to kill the bill, arguing that this proposed legislation could sour our neighbourly relations and kill the North American Free Trade deal.
• Jack Valenti, Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, was the leading American lobbyist who fought MacDonald's bill. Valenti pleaded his case, to protect Canada as an extension of the American movie-market, to President Ronald Reagan. Valenti argued the principle of supply and demand: Canadians would want to see Canadian films if they were any good. Reagan in turn allegedly advised Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to kill the bill so as not to jeopardize NAFTA.

• In May 1988 Flora MacDonald introduced a watered-down version of her Film Products Importation Bill before it eventually died when the 1988 Federal Election was called. However, Telefilm did succeed in implementing the Feature Film Distribution Fund in 1988 which established credit lines for Canadian companies seeking to distribute films in varied markets.

• An earlier attempt at instituting a quota system was a failure. In 1975, Secretary of State Hugh Faulkner established a voluntary quota deal with Famous Players and Odeon Theatres. Each chain promised to invest at least $1.7 million in Canadian film production and devote a minimum of four weeks per year to their exhibition. Two years later, the plan was scrapped after the voluntary system had proved to be a failure.

• Famous Players and Cineplex Odeon have long been the dominant theatres in Canada, controlling 30 and 43 per cent of Canada's screens. Famous Players, which is owned by the U.S. media company Viacom, has long held a relationship with distributors including Buena Vista, MGM, Warner Brothers and Paramount. Cineplex Odeon, owned by Universal, maintains ties with Columbia, Fox and Universal. Despite these ties, the theatres don't maintain exclusivity on film titles from distributors.

Film Credit: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, VOS Productions – NFB, Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Film Development Corporation, Téléfilm Canada. Platoon Hemdale. My American Cousin, Peter O'Brian – Borderline, CBC, Independent, Okanagan Motion Picture Company, Téléfilm Canada.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Oct. 25, 1987
Guest(s): Paul Fekete, Francis Fox, Flora MacDonald, Clément Richard, Stephen Roth, Connie Tadros, Daniel Weinzweig
Host: Linden MacIntyre
Reporter: Carol Off
Duration: 17:07
Film credits: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing: VOS Productions, NFB, Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Film Development Corporation, Téléfilm Canada My American Cousin: Peter O'Brian – Borderline, CBC, Independent, Okanagan Motion Picture Company, Téléfilm Canada

Last updated: August 29, 2013

Page consulted on October 28, 2014

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