Telefilm Canada Faces Down Filmmaker Resistance to Push for Box Office Success

Goon - Movie Still: Liev Schreiber - H - 2011
Toronto Film Festival

The country's biggest film financier said it will help established and emerging movie producers find their way in a fast-changing business with commercial hits like "Goon" and "Breakaway."

TORONTO - In Canadian film, success begets success -- and grumbling from filmmakers long dependent on government coin who are now grasping for a lifeline in an increasingly global business with dwindling taxpayer subsidies.

On Thursday, Telefilm Canada, the federal government’s film financier, held its annual general meeting to tout a new “success index” that encourages and rewards box office.

A string of recent crowd-pleasing hits like the Jay Baruchel-starrer Goon, Robert Lieberman’s Breakaway and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method has Telefilm continuing to help established and emerging film producers chase new financing and markets both at home and overseas.

STORY: Telefilm Canada to Face Filmmaker Protest For Rewarding Box Office Success

Telefilm executive director Carolle Brabant told the AGM at Bell Lightbox in Toronto that the financier revamped how it backs and promotes Canadian film, and is giving indie producers more autonomy, for still greater commercial and cultural success.

“You asked us to be less bureaucratic – to cut the red tape, to recognize your know-how and experience, as well as your successes,” Brabant told the AGM.

“Companies that submit development projects now have more decision-making autonomy. They themselves choose the projects or group of projects they want to put on screen,” she added.

But Telefilm Canada faced pressure from filmmakers at the AGM insisting rich Canadian film players get richer these days, while poor filmmakers get poorer.

“When you’re basing this index on success, you can’t have much success if only two theatres are projecting your film,” indie producer and distributor Avi Federgreen told the Toronto gathering.

And Wyeth Clarkson, a spokesman for Producers Roundtable of Ontario, a filmmakers collective, urged Telefilm Canada to allow one of its representatives onto its board of directors and to consider pushing a company that received development coin one year to the back of the line the next year.

Clarkson, the son of former Telefilm Canada executive director Wayne Clarkson, was told putting a filmmaker that receives assistance on its board risked a conflict of interest.

“I don’t know if some of your colleagues in the room would approve if they get development (financing) one year, and they won’t get it the next year,” Brabant added.

The Telefilm Canada topper added the financier was offering more money for micro-budgets and young filmmakers leveraging digital technology.

But Brabant added Canadian film producers could not look to Telefilm Canada to fully fund their projects.

Local producers instead were urged to find more private coin for their projects, not least by participating in more international co-productions to boost their box office appeal internationally.

“At the latest MIPCOM, where Canada was the country of honor, we highlighted the fact that everything is big in Canada: our geography, but also our talent, our business opportunities,” Brabant told the AGM.

She also promised more promotion of Canadian film.

“Raising the profile of our cinema – it’s not hard to do, but we need to have more opportunities and more people who can make it happen,” Brabant said, in a plea for more industry partnerships.

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That promotion will continue to take place at international film festivals like Cannes, Berlin and Pusan, where Telefilm is looking to jury prizes and critical praise from overseas to build buzz for the commercial release of Canadian films back home.

Here the Canadian industry is looking to adapt to the internet and other digital technologies that break down borders and protections for national cinema.

Brabant was also keen to remind the AGM audience that the Canadian film industry is punching above its weight.

“There’s no such thing as small success. Rather, there are many successes that, more and more, combine to make our film industry a force to be reckoned with,” she said.