Toronto 2012: Canadian Film Panel Spotlights U.S. Box Office Traction

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Filmmakers David Cronenberg and Sarah Polley and companies like Lionsgate and Imax have made Canada a global player. Now it needs Americans to know they're viewing Canadian films.

TORONTO – A panel on Canadian films like Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method gaining traction in the U.S. theatrical market on Monday came to a surprising conclusion: Americans don’t perceive those films as Canadian.

“They’re perceived as good or bad films, genre or horror films. But it’s not distinctive that they are Canadian films,” Laurence Kardish, senior film curator at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, told a panel on Canadian films in the U.S. at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The discussion pointed to Canadian filmmakers escaping an earlier provincialism and naïveté to embrace projects with Hollywood actors, universal storylines and foreign locations that are hitting with American audiences.

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“Often times we used to talk about why it (Canadian film) wasn’t that great. Cronenberg and (Atom) Egoyan stood out. But all of a sudden, that’s changed. There’s so many great Canadian films being made that we don’t even think of as Canadian, and should,” said Tribeca Enterprises’ Geoffery Gilmore.

John Sloss of Cinetic Media recalled a time when American film buyers insisted after a screening that a film was good, but too Canadian.

“It’s hard to put your finger on what that meant, but it wasn’t good,” he observed.

Today, the diversity and depth of Canadian film has removed that stigma.

“There’s Canadian films of all stripes. There’s films you don’t even know they’re from Canada,” Sloss insisted.

If anything, the chameleon-like quality of Canadian film, able to cross genres and continents in its story-telling, is embraced by American distribution outlets.

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IFC Films marketing vp Ryan Werner recalled conveniently selling Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time as a romance film in Egypt, not a Canadian movie.

“In general, what I like about Canadian films is you don’t have to come up with ways to sell them to an American audience, because they easily fall into categories,” Werner insisted.

At the same time, the TIFF panel did lead into a “What is a Canadian film” debate that touched on well-worn points of contention: English- versus French-speaking films, Toronto versus Vancouver filmmakers, and whether Canadian indie film is distinctive from its American counterpart.

“The stigma (of Canadian film) has disappeared in the U.S., but the stigma hasn’t disappeared in this country,” said veteran Canadian indie film producer Daniel Iron of Foundry Films.

Tribeca’s Gilmore did caution that Canada’s lack of a defined film brand in the U.S. market was a hindrance in finding a foothold for this country’s product on VOD platforms.

Getting a film on VOD isn’t a challenge, Gilmore added, as much as getting it noticed on the digital platform.

“So how do you make Canadian film distinctive, something that stands out? Because it’s a marketing hook that ultimately sells films on VOD,” he argued.

The Toronto International Film Festival continues to September 16.