Filmmaker, politician propose Cancon quota for movies
Last Updated: Thursday, September 7, 2006 | 10:19 AM ET
Toronto's annual film festival always shines one spotlight on Canadian films. But worries about the English Canadian box office reality — after the festival's lights turn off — have sparked proposals for a Canadian content quota system for the silver screen.
While homegrown films can play to sold-out theatres during the popular festival, afterwards it's usually a very different story, said longtime film critic Brian D. Johnson, who has covered the Toronto International Film Festival for 20 years.
"It's very hard to get into a Canadian film at the Toronto festival. But a few weeks later, you know, you can go down to a tiny little screening room at a multiplex and that film will be playing before a very small audience," Johnson told CBC News.
That prospect concerns Vancouver filmmaker Carl Bessai. While excited about screening his latest film, Unnatural and Accidental, at this year's festival, he is already worrying about attracting a post-festival audience to his movie — inspired by the murders of women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside — because of the poor track record English Canadian films have at the box office.
"We've built a system where we create all this stuff, but there's no market for the stuff we create," said Bessai, the director behind 2003's Emile.
"We subsidize every aspect of creating Canadian film and then we drop it in the market and hope to God it can compete with the American film. And we know it's not working."
Devote 20 per cent of screen time to Cancon
Bessai has proposed a quota system, where certain movie theatres in urban centres would devote 20 per cent of their screen time to Canadian films.The filmmaker said the effort could be subsidized by tapping into some of the government funding currently directed towards the marketing and distribution of domestic films.
Last year, Canadian films made up a little more than one per cent of the total English language box office take in Canadian cinemas.
Peter Tabuns, a New Democrat member of Ontario's provincial parliament, holds a similar view. He plans to introduce a private member's bill this fall proposing a quota for Canadian film and film trailers in the province's theatres.
"We have difficulty — in a world where American studios really have tremendous power — having our voice heard and there has to be some rebalancing," Tabuns said.
"We need to have government action to protect and promote film," he said. "We aren't going to do it though the market alone."
Quota suggestion 'a total cop-out,' Cineplex head
However, the head of Canada's largest theatre chain denies that the problem plaguing English Canadian film is one of distribution. Instead, he points the finger back at the filmmakers and the types of films being made.
"I think it's a total cop-out and it's basically using us as a scapegoat in a situation where they're relying on government funds," said Ellis Jacob, president and CEO of Cineplex Galaxy.
"They're using us as the reason why they aren't able to deliver," he added, saying that if the film is great and has strong promotion, audiences will go see it.