Let’s not lie to ourselves: There is something distinctly sad about celebrating the second virtual-only National Canadian Film Day.
When Reel Canada, the non-profit organization behind NCFD, was forced to go digital for its seventh edition last spring instead of the 1,000 real-deal screenings it had planned, I was expecting the move to strictly be a one-off. Yet here we are, celebrating the eighth annual NCFD April 21 once again in a virtual fashion, and with no firm guarantee that next year will be any different.
But despite our locked-down and on-edge circumstances, the past 12 months have delivered some genuinely feel-good developments in our perpetually fraught domestic movie industry. Ahead of NCFD 2021, here are five Canadian film success stories that we should be celebrating – tempered, in typical Canadian fashion, with two issues that homegrown film-lovers should be deeply nervous about.
Canada is still making movies: For a good portion of 2020, it seemed that independent Canadian filmmakers (that is: all of them) would never be able to shoot a second of footage again, thanks to a universal lack of COVID-19 production insurance. (Studio or streamer-backed productions are large enough to self-insure.) But, after a not-insubstantial delay, Ottawa recognized how many billions of dollars that the sector pumps into the economy, and this past fall introduced the Short-Term Compensation Fund, which helps producers insure against COVID-related shutdowns. What’s more: the Telefilm-administered plan was this February renewed for another year and saw its coverage double, to $100-million, with more than 160 film and television productions using the plan to keep business going.
Diversity is being diversified: The domestic industry is many, many, many years behind on diversity – but at least the pandemic has forced some players to put money where their mouths are. Look at the multiple initiatives undertaken by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, the progress of the Indigenous Screen Office, the promise of the Black Screen Office, the ambitions of the Black Academy, Bell Media’s partnership with the grassroots BIPOC TV & Film organization and the ground gained in gender parity behind the camera, according to a new report from Women in View.
Online film festivals are thriving: As noted above, it’s massively depressing that virtual film festivals continue to exist. But if we cannot gather in-person, then sure, I’ll take the next best thing. And as Canadian film festivals have adjusted to this new normal, many have discovered a sweet spot that balances giving audiences what they want and preserving the integrity and cultural importance of the medium. TIFF, VIFF, Montreal’s Fantasia, Whistler, Kingston and Hot Docs have all given much-needed life to the country’s locked-down film-lovers. So much so that we’re now drowning in choice and access, given that physical travel is no longer a barrier. The experiences haven’t all been perfect, but they have been so much more fulfilling than anyone could have hoped for.
Canadian cinema continues to impress and enthrall: No filmmaker wants to release their movie in a movie-theatre-less world. Yet so many top-tier films made it out, in various fashion, over the past 12 months that it is more than a little astounding: Anne at 13,000 ft., White Lie, Blood Quantum, Disappearance at Clifton Hill, Hammer, Psycho Goreman, The Kid Detective, Murmur, Possessor, Underground, Brotherhood and many more across genre, budget levels and all the other limitations/asterisks involved in making a Canadian film. And there are so many promising titles still to come this year, too: Night Raiders, Akilla’s Escape, Beans, Slash/Back, The White Fortress, and maybe – just maybe, if we’re on our best behaviour – a new David Cronenberg film.
Telefilm is changing: After engaging in a “pan-Canadian” consultation this past fall, Telefilm is set any day now to reveal the future of how Canadian films get made, and by whom. The road to this moment has been complicated and contentious, complete with open letters criticizing an “archaic, incoherent” system, manifestos calling for “fairer and more inclusive” operations and certain more established producers defending the necessity of the status quo to maintain industry stability. I have no earthly idea how any of this will pan out – I’ve heard from those who are cautiously encouraged, and those who are beyond frustrated – but I’m going to play the optimist for a change. Also, maybe Justin Trudeau will actually make good on his pledge to boost Telefilm’s budget! Let’s check back April 19.
Bill C-10 is ... interesting: Talk to most any Canadian film or television producer, and they might give the impression that they drafted the amendment to the Broadcasting Act themselves. It’ll make foreign streamers pay up! It gives incentives for underrepresented communities! It sets up a stronger domestic broadcasting landscape! There are certainly worthwhile wars being waged here. But is the CRTC the battlefield that we (the industry and the audience) want that fight to be playing out on?
The sad state of cinemas: I wonder how many more of this country’s movie theatres will have to permanently close (farewell, Ottawa’s ByTowne) before all three levels of the Canadian government realize how badly they have consistently ignored or explicitly undermined the arts sector. Industry-led initiatives such as the Hot Docs Independent Cinemas Relief Fund are welcome but they are not nearly enough. If we want movie theatres back when all this is over (and it will be over, eventually), then moviegoers are going to have to fight for them. Please don’t make next year’s National Canadian Film Day a virtual affair, too.
For more information on National Canadian Film Day, visit canadianfilmday.ca
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