Telefilm boss enters Canadian TV mud fight

Carole Brabant: 'I'm a true fan of what we're producing'

TORONTO -- Admittedly, Canada's film and TV czar doesn't like to disagree with politicians.

"My communications team says... you never say you disagree," Carole Brabant, the newly installed executive director of Montreal-based Telefilm Canada, the federal government's film financier, told reporters in Toronto on her first official visit to English Canada.

As the saying goes, "don't get in a mud fight with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it."

But Brabant, a trained chartered accountant who joined Telefilm Canada in 1990 as an auditor, strayed from her script when she was asked to respond to Alberta culture minister Lindsay Blackett suggesting at the recent Banff World Television Festival that Canadian-made TV shows were "crap."

"I sit here as a government representative for film and television in the province of Alberta and I look at what we produce, and if we're honest with ourselves ... I look at it and say, 'Why do I produce so much shit? Why do I fund so much crap?' " the Alberta politician told a festival panel.

"Why do the broadcasters not pick up more Canadian content? Because the Canadian content isn't what it should be," Blackett added.

Here's mud in your eye, Brabant replied. "On this one I totally disagree. I'm a true fan of what we're producing," she said.

"I would not be a CA (chartered accountant) and with Telefilm if I didn't think taxpayer dollars were well invested," Brabant added.

Canada's biggest film financier declared herself a fan of local movies as well, albeit one hard-pressed to suggest how she will make homegrown film more competitive against Hollywood movies at the local multiplex.

French-language Canadian film enjoys impressive boxoffice returns in Quebec. But in the rest of the country, mostly arthouse English-Canadian films barely eke out 1% of ticket sales at local multiplexes otherwise dominated by Hollywood movies.

Telefilm Canada has a mandate from its political masters in Ottawa to secure 5% of the local boxoffice, including Quebec, a goal it achieved once in the last ten years.

Brabant takes the helm at the federal film financier when most English-Canadian films go without theatrical distribution, and those that do too often die an unheralded death at the boxoffice.

Asked how she intends to boost screen time to get Canadian film back to 5% of boxoffice returns nationally, Brabant, ever the accountant, calls for a new measuring tool.

In a digital age, Canadians are watching more homegrown movies on more screens, Brabant argues. So Telefilm Canada needs to consider how to measure audiences beyond the local multiplex to identify the true value of taxpayer investment in homegrown film.

"People are really looking at cultural products in many different ways. If we're only focusing only on screen time, we might lose other ways of broadcasting Canadian products," she argued.

Asked if the emerging multiplatform audience for Canadian film could get Telefilm to its coveted 5% screen time goal, Brabant was non-committal.

"Studies are not conclusive on that. Yes, there is a tendency for people to watch on other (platforms), but there's still a big crowd watching it on screens," she said.