Telefilm Canada pivotal player in Canada's entertainment sector


TORONTO -- As Telefilm Canada celebrates its 40th anniversary, there is little doubt that the agency has played a vital role in shaping and -- many believe -- creating the local film sector.

But in 1967, the year Ottawa launched the Canadian Film Development Corp. (CFDC) -- the precursor to Telefilm Canada -- few could have predicted just how significant the agency's influence would be. Indeed, prior to 1967, the term "Canadian film sector" was something of a contradiction. These days, however, an entire film industry watches closely and nervously when the agency distributes around $200 million annually on the federal government's behalf.

"The bottom line is every independent producer in this country could not have gotten where they are today without Telefilm Canada," observes Christina Jennings, chairman and co-CEO of Toronto-based production company Shaftesbury Films.

Ottawa changed the broadcast fund's name in 1984 to reflect an agency increasingly supportive of Canadian movies underwritten by domestic networks that wanted to ensure a TV airdate.

Fast-forward to 2007 and Telefilm Canada's original mandate has been extended to promoting and financing homegrown new media product in the emerging digital age.

"Our mandate remains the same: to serve Canada's audiovisual industry," declares Telefilm Canada executive director Wayne Clarkson. "We're just doing it in different ways and through different partnerships."

Circumstances have also changed for Telefilm Canada due to the emergence of the Internet and globalization.

For example, Canada essentially launched the concept of international co-productions, in which producers from respective countries share financing and risks on film and TV projects, and can tap government incentives and benefits from either market.

Canada has to date signed around 50 film and TV co-production pacts with 53 countries, and its producers have traditionally done joint projects with partners like Britain and France.

But while Canada may have been at the forefront of co-productions, Telefilm's Clarkson notes that many of Canada's official co-production treaties are 30-40 years old and require updating to current global market conditions.

"The nature of international financing has changed," he declares. "No longer can Canada and France simply sign a deal and make a movie. Now Canadian films often have three, four or five partners coming together. Deals have gotten more complex, budgets have gone up, and it's taken more than two countries to make a movie."

On the TV side, Telefilm Canada in recent years has drawn back from active investment in domestic projects and instead oversees the $250 million Canadian Television Fund -- the main source of subsidies for domestic TV producers -- on behalf of the federal government.

That leaves Telefilm Canada to instead focus on funding and promoting Canadian film and new media product at home and abroad via festival and TV markets.

"Over the last five years, we've recognized more and more that festivals are the promotion and sales solution for Canadian film," says Brigitte Hubmann, project co-leader for festivals and markets at Telefilm Canada.

The Canada Pavilion at Cannes, for example, offers Canadian film producers space to do business with foreign buyers, producers and directors, as well as on-site advice to arrange co-production deals with foreign partners.

Telefilm Canada hosts a similar business hub at major TV markets, including the two MIPs and NATPE.

"Having a booth at the Canada Pavilion is very affordable compared to producers exhibiting themselves," says Veronique Le Sayec, project co-leader for festivals and markets. "In addition, we help with promotion and the press and offer on-site tools to help with business and networking."

The federal agency is also active in securing foreign sales of Canadian film.

For example, in 2006 Telefilm Canada launched the Perspectives Canada program in Berlin and Cannes to encourage sales of Canadian films in foreign markets by holdings screenings of selected titles for potential buyers.

The agency is not about protectionism, Clarkson argues, but access, namely ensuring that Canadian film and TV product -- and, increasingly, digital media product -- finds interest and a home with Canadians and international audiences.

"There are regulations in most countries, including Japan, India and the United States, (that were) established to ensure radio and TV content on the airwaves," he says. "There are rules and regulations on who can own the airwaves in the U.S."

Clarkson adds that Canada has felt the need to extend rules on who can own the airwaves in order to ensure shelf space for homegrown product.

To do that, Telefilm Canada maintains -- where possible -- investments in indigenous product conceived and developed by Canadian talent for markets at home and abroad.

"The priority in that expression is Canadian talent -- that is our fundamental underlying intent," Clarkson concludes. "The challenge for us is to build an industry based on Canadian talent, Canadian ideas, Canadian stories, first in film and TV, and now in new media."