Quebec filmmakers ask: What does Netflix investment mean for French-language content?

Netflix's announcement that it will invest $500 million into Canadian content over the next five years is being met with apprehension by some Quebec filmmakers — and welcomed by others.

Bladerunner 2049 director fears Quebecers could 'find ourselves in 10 years only consuming American culture'

Canadian and Quebec content producers have mixed feelings about Netflix's promise to fund Canadian productions over five years. (Stephane de Sakutin/Getty Images)

Netflix's announcement that it will invest $500 million into Canadian content over the next five years is being met with apprehension by some Quebec filmmakers — and welcomed by others. 

Producer Roger Frappier, whose film Hochelaga, Terre des Âmes has just been selected by Telefilm Canada as this year's contender for the foreign-language Oscar, says he's wary of the investment. 

Frappier said the amount, spread over five years, represents a relatively small fraction of the American online streaming company's profits. 

He would have preferred to see Canada impose a "Netflix tax," as France and Australia are doing, to inject development funds into the Canadian industry — an idea proposed by a parliamentary committee in June but nixed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Frappier is also concerned about how and where the content decisions will be made — he assumes from Netflix's headquarters in California, and far from Quebec. 

"I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of  … English Canadian producers that are happy this morning, but what happens for the Quebec French cinema?" he asked on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Thursday. 

Frappier said he'd prefer a scenario in which Quebec French-language films and television series are produced in the province, giving film and television producers in Quebec more autonomy and creative freedom. 

Hochelaga, terre des âmes, directed by Quebecer François Girard and producer Roger Frappier, has been chosen to represent Canada for the best foreign-language film Oscar. (TIFF)

There are at least two popular Quebec series listed on Netflix's Canadian offers, including 19-2, a police drama, and Unité 9, a television drama about female prisoners. Both series are produced by Radio-Canada.

Frappier is also critical of Netflix's distribution model for the films it creates, which are only released on its platform and not in movie theatres, which he feels is limiting. 

Important to protect Quebec film: Denis Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve, the Quebec filmmaker who directed the soon-to-be released Blade Runner 2049, agreed that it's important to protect the province's distinct and successful film industry.

"There has to be a way that we don't find ourselves in 10 years only consuming American culture," Villeneuve said, speaking to Radio-Canada's 24/60 television program. 

Denis Villeneuve, the Quebec filmmaker behind the critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049, says it's important to protect Quebec cinema. (Radio-Canada)

"It's a bit paradoxical because I find myself on the other side," creating American content, he admitted, laughing.

The accessibility of American films can overshadow quality auteur films from smaller markets, he acknowledged.

"Everyone in the world will be able to see Blade Runner," said Villeneuve.

'A great opportunity'

Montreal-based producer Darren Curtis, on the other hand, celebrates the investment and says he isn't worried about the continued viability of the Quebec film industry. 

Speaking on Daybreak, Curtis said that Netflix loves auteurs, "and Quebec has some of the best auteurs in the world."

He sees Netflix's interest in Canada as "a great opportunity for Canadians to collaborate with programmers, producers that develop content for Netflix."

"I really believe in the Netflix platform," Curtis said. "Even the biggest heavy-hitters in Hollywood have embraced this new sort of model and form of releasing films."