The CBC has cancelled the award-winning documentary TV program The Lens, a move some in Canada's production community are calling "tragic" because it means one fewer port of call for independent documentary producers.
Peter Raymont, president of Toronto's White Pine Pictures, said The Lens on CBC Newsworld was a true advocate of the independent documentary-maker, as well as a place to showcase "films from across the country, by filmmakers of colour, and from different cultural backgrounds. "It's devastating. It's very disheartening," added Raymont, who produced the Emmy-winning Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire and is now executive producing the drama series The Border on CBC. "They encouraged filmmakers to have a strong point of view and to express them in their films. The fact that's been lost, I think, is tragic."
On Friday, CBC spokesman Jeff Keay said documentaries commissioned by The Lens will now be broadcast on The Passionate Eye, as well as on other CBC documentary-based programs such as Doc Zone and The Nature of Things.
"The documentaries will continue to be broadcast under The Passionate Eye, which used to do just international documentaries and will now do both Canadian and international docs," said Keay, who added that its Wild Docs program has also been cancelled, but that The Passionate Eye is moving to a seven-day airing schedule on Newsworld.
"Yes, we are under financial constraints, but we remained committed to documentaries. In fact, we have 77 hours of new documentary programming this upcoming season. We are the country's leading commissioner of documentaries for broadcast in Canada - and we intend to remain that."
The Lens, previously known as Rough Cuts, has showcased about 175 Canadian documentaries from independent filmmakers over the past 16 years.
Norm Bolen, president of the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association, said the cancellation of The Lens is alarming because it's another signal that CBC-TV will be doing more in-house production.
"We understand the financial constraints all broadcasters are under but the documentary genre should be better represented and funded by the broadcasting sector," said Bolen. " The Lens was the only CBC documentary program devoted exclusively to the works of independent producers. This cancellation will have a significant negative impact on the independent documentary production."
Keay said the number of commissions may slow down. "I'm not saying there won't be any reductions. But the CBC is committed to spending the maximum that we can do on independent production. The reality is we have a serious financial problem, but we're absolutely committed to Canadian documentaries."
But Raymont, whose documentary The Experimental Eskimos will now air on The Passionate Eye, noted there is still a "big difference between an acquisition and a commission. I don't know how they're going to spend their Canadian Television Fund money. Perhaps it will switch from documentaries to other genres. I'm afraid this means future projects we're hoping to do in collaboration with Newsworld won't happen.
"We are going to do what we can through our lobbying efforts to turn this around. But I don't know how successful we'll be," Raymont added.