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However you celebrate NCFD, the occasion offers a perfect opportunity to reflect on where the country’s film community is at, and where it might be going.levelFILM

The ninth annual edition of National Canadian Film Day (NCFD) on Wednesday arrives at a rather confusing time. On the one hand, theatres are now open across the country and seem to be staying that way. On the other, the sixth wave of COVID-19 is still keeping audiences home. But that’s okay. After two virtual go rounds, the non-profit organization Reel Canada has come prepared: This year’s NCFD offers events both physical (such as screenings of the late Jean-Marc Vallée’s breakthrough film C.R.A.Z.Y.) and virtual (you can live-stream your patriotic heart out).

However you celebrate NCFD – assuming you are even aware that it’s a thing – the occasion offers a perfect opportunity to reflect on where the country’s film community is at, and where it might be going. Here are four reasons to celebrate NCFD with as much gusto as Canadians can manage, and three reasons why homegrown film lovers should be concerned about the future.

Good News

Sheila Lotuaco as Marisol and Rogelio Balagtas as Joshua in Islands.Circus Zero Films

Our movies are small, but mighty

For many reasons, Canadian films tend to be on the tinier side. But as this year has already proved, great things come in micro-budget packages. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s wonderful drama Scarborough, which was made under Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program for about the cost of a bench in the Toronto subway’s Warden Subway, just triumphed at the Canadian Screen Awards. And last week, fellow Talent to Watch production Islands, a hilarious and heartbreaking story set in Toronto’s Filipino community directed by Martin Edralin, began its select-city theatrical release. If we can start giving our cost-conscious filmmakers more resources – ensuring just that much brighter of an exposure for diverse voices telling fresh, invigorating stories – then the industry would truly be on a roll.

Our big movies are pretty good, too

Last week, news broke that David Cronenberg will be making his long-awaited return to Cannes with his new sci-fi thriller Crimes of the Future, easily the most anticipated Canadian production of the year. Speaking of high-profile Canadian directors: This year is also set to deliver new works from Sarah Polley (the Miriam Toews adaptation Women Talking); Clement Virgo (the David Chariandy adaptation Brother); Nicole Dorsey (the sci-fi thriller Balestra); and at least one more Cronenberg family member (Brandon’s Infinity Pool) – maybe two (Caitlin’s Humane). Oh, and Villeneuve is set to make a sequel to a little Oscar-winning movie named Dune. Some of these titles are Canadian through and through, others Canadian-ish. But none could have been made were it not for our domestic film ecosystem.

We’re finding new heroes every day

Every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded of the many (many!) under-the-radar, relatively buzzless success stories that build this country’s screen sector project by project, award by award. Take Nova Scotia filmmaker Ben Proudfoot, who last month won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for his film The Queen of Basketball – his second turn at the Oscars following his 2021 nomination for A Concerto is a Conversation.

And we’re finding new, deeper pockets, too

Thanks to the streaming wars and Bill C-11 (the proposed act to amend the Broadcasting Act), the Canadian market is increasingly hot with development funds. Last week, Prime Video unveiled a wealth of new Canadian productions (including a new Kids in the Hall series and the drug-trafficking film Sugar). Meanwhile, producer Tara Woodbury’s recent appointment as Netflix’s first Canadian-based executive signals more investment from that streaming giant. Whether international media companies are pouring resources into Canada to get ahead of Bill C-11 or to recognize the country’s underserved audience, the end result is more dollars going toward more Canadian storytellers. For now.

Bad News

Three kids in a low-income neighbourhood in Scarborough find friendship and community in an unlikely place, an adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s award-winning book.levelFILM

Oh, about the money

The streaming dollars are flowing or about to, but the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) wasn’t incorrect this month when it issued a fiery (by Canadian arts-org standards) press release decrying the Liberal Party’s failure to follow through on an 2021 election promise to permanently boost funds for Telefilm, the Canada Media Fund, the Canada Music Fund, the Indigenous Screen Office and CBC/Radio Canada. “This is a crucial time and Budget 2022 failed to invest in jobs and increased Canadian content production,” ACTRA said.

Labour pains

A half-year after a major screen-sector strike was averted in the U.S. because of a deal between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a similar labour disruption is now brewing in B.C. Two weeks ago, the B.C. council of the Directors Guild of Canada voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate, after failing to come to terms with the AMPTP and Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA). Things are so tense that the AMPTP and the CMPA issued a joint statement warning that a strike authorization vote “seriously jeopardizes British Columbia’s reputation as an attractive location for motion picture production.”

Pandemic theatre

While cinemas are open and big-studio films are backing down from the day-and-date route (that is, becoming available to watch at home the same time they open in theatres), the Canadian exhibition game is still an immensely challenging one to play. And if you’re a Canadian filmmaker hoping to get decent theatrical exposure? Good luck, as audiences are still wary of going out, screen space is increasingly reserved for safe-bet franchise fare, and marketing awareness of homegrown cinema remains pitiful. Even when a movie does score that golden-ticket theatrical platform, release patterns can be so wonky – again, theatre-owners don’t want to risk giving long engagements to untested product – that even the most dedicated Canadian cinephile can get frustrated.

For more information on National Canadian Film Day, visit canadianfilmday.ca

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