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Film Canadian filmmakers decry reappointment of National Film Board commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur

National Film Board commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur.

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A 250-plus-strong faction of Canadian filmmakers is decrying the reappointment of Claude Joli-Coeur as the National Film Board’s film commissioner, saying that the federal agency “is in crisis.”

On Thursday, Canadian Heritage announced the renewal of Mr. Joli-Coeur’s mandate for three years, with Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez praising the NFB veteran’s “priorities of inclusion, innovation and public engagement” and noting that the commissioner was well-placed to lead the organization as it prepares to relocate its Montreal headquarters and “embark on its next growth phase.”

However, a group calling itself ONF/NFB Creation, which counts Academy Award-winning filmmakers Chris Landreth, Torill Kove, and David Fine as signatories among more than 250 other “freelance directors who have created films and audiovisual works for the NFB," issued a statement Thursday that raised concerns over Mr. Joli-Coeur’s tenure.

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“Over the past 15 years, we have seen a 56 per cent drop in spending on external production costs ⁠ – the actual money used to create content. Working conditions for directors have deteriorated to the point where, for many, it is no longer financially viable to create works with the NFB. Meanwhile, spending in non-filmmaker and administration salaries has steadily climbed,” the statement reads.

The group, which alleges that only one of every five dollars in the NFB’s budget goes toward production costs, says that its members have been in discussion with Mr. Joli-Coeur and NFB management for the past two years, but that the process has been "stonewalled.”

Reached on Thursday, Mr. Joli-Coeur disputed the group’s allegations.

“Unfortunately, with over two years of discussions with them, we haven’t been able to convince them that we’re telling the truth. That’s sad, but what can I do?” the film commissioner said in an interview with The Globe. “Based on official figures that have been audited by the auditor-general, I can say that 50 per cent of our money goes to production, 34 per cent to distribution and 16 per cent in overhead, depending on the year. … The number of meetings I’ve had with them is enormous, and my door has always been open.”

Freelance animation director and ONF/NFB Creation spokesperson Munro Ferguson says that his fellow filmmakers want more transparency on management’s prioritization of resources, adding that too much is being allocated to “administrative bloat” such as corporate branding and other nonproduction endeavours.

“The budget issues that we kept emphasizing over and over again were just not something that management was willing to discuss, or concede that was a problem,” Mr. Ferguson told The Globe. He was director of 1995′s How Dinosaurs Learned to Fly, among other NFB animated short films. “We’re afraid that without an increase in funding for production, the number of films produced will be reduced.”

Mr. Joli-Coeur acknowledged that it is a difficult time to be a filmmaker in Canada, but said that the organization provides a relatively safe harbour for artists compared to the private sector, and that “in the field of documentary and animation, we can be shown as an example of how to treat people.”

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Members of NFB/ONF Creation met with the staff of Mr. Rodriguez this past January, after which the group partnered with L’Association des réalisateurs et réalisatrices du Québec, the Directors Guild of Canada, and the Documentary Organization of Canada to offer proposals that would maintain the NFB’s “essential role within Canada’s film and digital media landscape.”

These measures include restoring investment in new content; adopting greater transparency regarding production, marketing, and distribution expenditures; engaging in “meaningful, regular consultations” with industry stakeholders; and revamping NFB governance by separating the roles of commissioner and chair of the board of trustees (Mr. Joli-Coeur serves as both, though he said that he has given extra powers to the vice-chair of the board to compensate for the fact that he has both positions).

“We lobbied for change, but unfortunately the reappointment of Claude Joli-Coeur clearly indicates that our concerns have not been heard,” filmmaker Philippe Baylaucq said in the NFB/ONF Creation statement.

Mr. Joli-Coeur, a lawyer by training who joined the NFB in 2003, becoming interim film commissioner after the departure of Tom Perlmutter in 2013, said that despite what he views as a “dead-end” between NFB management and NFB/ONF Creates, he wants to continue the dialogue with the country’s filmmakers.

“This fall I’m starting a tour of the country, meeting all the creators with whom we work,” Mr. Joli-Coeur said. “I’m always open to a dialogue, to get input. But in a way that we can at least agree on some facts.”

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