Telefilm's Talent to Watch program aims to launch new generation of Canadian filmmakers

Telefilm Canada has launched the Talent to Watch program, with the goal of helping up-and-coming Canadian filmmakers create their first feature projects. It's a complete revamp of a previous program, and part of Telefilm's three-year plan to create and export Canadian film content.

Outspoken filmmaker Matt Johnson brought on to be program ambassador

Emerging filmmakers gathered in Toronto for Telefilm's Talent to Watch program on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (CBC)

Packed inside a gussied-up sound stage at Pinewood Toronto Studios this week, dozens of up-and-coming filmmakers met with industry insiders, speed dating-style.

They asked questions, built connections and perfected pitches during a two-day summit as part of Telefilm Canada's new Talent to Watch program, which tapped the creators of 45 film and digital projects from across the country for its inaugural edition.

Halifax actor Koumbie, who goes by a single name, spent 10 years appearing in TV shows like Mr. D and Studio Black, but is now moving into directing. She was selected for Talent to Watch for her first big project, CareCroft.

Filmmaker Koumbie was chosen as one of the first participants of Telefilm's 2018 Talent to Watch program. (CBC)

"It is a digital series for women's experiences going through the medical system in Nova Scotia... struggling to be believed by not just their doctors, but the people in their lives as well," she said, noting that the idea was born from a conversation with her producer about access to birth control and what she sees as a lack of openness in conversations about it.

'It's that simple'

Talent to Watch greatly expands on Telefilm's former Micro-budget Production Program, according to Francesca Accinelli, the film agency's director of national promotion and communications.

The new initiative will fund up to 50 projects a year by first-time feature directors — more than double the old program. About $5.4 million — mainly provided by Telefilm's private donation Talent Fund — will be distributed, with each filmmaker receiving a grant of up to $125,000.

Francesca Accinelli, Telefilm's director of national promotion and communications, calls the Talent to Watch program 'an amazing change to our process.' (CBC)

"We give them the money, they go make their film or their web content and they show it to the world. It's that simple," Accinelli said.

Applicants must have directed a short film that was selected to screen at a recognized film festival or be a recent alumni of a partner school, co-op or film festival incubator — places where Canada's next generation of content creators are being discovered, she added.

From criticism to collaboration

One of Telefilm's loudest critics — Matt Johnson — is one of the architects of the new program. In recent years, the Toronto filmmaker has blasted the Canadian film agency in numerous interviews, decrying its processes and choices.

"They were funding an archaic film model meant for legacy filmmakers who were always more or less making the same movie," Johnson said.

"It left no fertile soil for new voices. Because of that, it was like everything young was being choked out."

About 10 months ago, Telefilm's former executive director Carolle Brabant reached out to Johnson, known for Operation Avalanche and Nirvana the Band Show, and his producing partner Matthew Miller to ask how they would change "the way features were made in this country, for young people," he said. 

"We proposed this exact program, the Talent to Watch program. She loved it… so we ran with it."

Actor and filmmaker Matt Johnson believes the Talent to Watch program 'will change the country' and give Canadian film a global spotlight. (CBC)

Now, Johnson is predicting massive change — and success.

"I feel like within the next five years we're going to see a completely different Telefilm, simply because that ossified structure that they had before is going to be penetrated by all these new voices."

Not only that, he anticipates that after five years, the program will have introduced about 250 new first-time feature films or digital productions — a significant wave of Canadian content that will be recognized around the world.

Ultimately, Johnson is happy to have been able to sit down with Telefilm to change the system. He's not finished: he also wants to see the model Talent to Watch uses to select funding recipients — a peer jury system — adopted throughout Telefilm.

While trading barbs about Telefilm in interviews was "great and a lot of fun," he admitted, creating change from within the system "is a lot more productive."


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