Toronto: Canadian Film Centre Turns 25

For more than two decades the CFC has helped open doors in Hollywood for Canadian talent. Now it's setting its sights on the global entertainment sector.

Canadian Film Centre screenwriting graduate Shernold Edwards spends a lot of time these days jet-setting between Toronto and Los Angeles.

One week she can be found in the writers’ room for SyFy's Haven in Hollywood; the next she’s back in Toronto, where, through mid-September, her script for A Day Late and a Dollar Short is being turned into a Lifetime movie, with Whoopi Goldberg starring and executive producing.

“I can trace every career move that I’ve made right back to the Canadian Film Centre, which I credit with getting me launched in Canada,” Edwards explains.

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She’s not alone.

Making connections in order to build an international network of relationships and foster work opportunities for graduates is just what the CFC does. Indeed, for 25 years now the CFC has been opening doors for attendees, often providing a calling card that has helped Canadian talent learn from top industry professionals from around the world.

Cross-border careers like Edwards’ are at the heart of the CFC’s strategy to get graduates doing world-class work while also raising the standard for Canada.

“It’s about taking advantage of a world economy and creating opportunities,” says CFC CEO Slawko Klymkiw. Having CFC graduates get signed and work in Hollywood and elsewhere overseas is what founder Norman Jewison had in mind when he launched the CFC in 1988. And these days the CFC isn’t just about filmmakers: Canadian writers, producers, directors, editors, musicians and actors pass through the CFC as residents to learn their craft and make connections that ultimately will help them flourish as graduates.

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“It’s not simply getting [graduates] out there. It’s introducing them to people that they can build networks around,” Klymkiw says. That global network includes international distribution channels for the CFC’s cutting-edge content.

One beneficiary was Canadian filmmaker Sudz Sutherland, who in 2009 was sent to New York City by the CFC to participate in the Tribeca All Access program as he developed Home Again, a Jamaican deportee drama. “They gave us meetings with The Weinstein Co., with Warner Bros., with Tyler Perry’s production company — high-level meetings you’d have to go to Los Angeles for,” Sutherland recalls. Three years later, Home Again, starring Tatyana Ali and CCH Pounder, debuted at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

Los Angeles is clearly the biggest potential expansion engine for the CFC as initiatives such as the Cineplex Film Program, chaired by Paul Haggis, the Bell Media Showrunner Bootcamp and the NBCUniversal Canada TV Series Exchange get Canadian talent in front of the best in the business.

Kathryn Emslie, the CFC’s chief programs officer, says her goal with the CFC’s varied programs and labs launched with international partners is ensuring graduates learn from top industry players.

“It’s not only about opening doors and forging relationships beyond the Film Centre. We’re making sure our Canadian talent is thinking about building careers in a global context,” she says.

Hollywood players recruited to mentor and coach CFC residents include directors Judd Apatow, Ethan Cohen and Ivan Reitman for the Telefilm Canada Feature Comedy Exchange; Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore and Canadian musician Chantal Kreviazuk for the Slaight Music Residency; and Bones creator Hart Hanson for the Showrunner Bootcamp program.

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Here the CFC is harnessing the Canadian expat community in Los Angeles and New York City as well as Americans looking to groom Canadian talent for the U.S. market as part of its international outreach.

“They want to be realistic about making sure the [Canadian] projects that are developed are able to take full advantage of the Canadian system, but are not restricted to being Canadian,” says Anne Curry, a New York-based indie producer (The American, Adventureland) who has worked as a mentor at the CFC in both the film and comedy programs.

Beyond getting alumni working, the CFC also is driving the creation of next-generation media content and businesses through a host of labs and accelerators.

In its quest to create opportunities for its graduates, the CFC increasingly is bringing allies and mentors in the digital realm on board to offer professional knowledge and contacts to its residents.

“Our job is to help people navigate the digital landscape, and to ensure they have the right tools and the right network and partners to navigate new ways of thinking,” says Ana Serrano, the CFC’s chief digital officer.

And the CFC’s Emslie stresses that a need to get the Canadian institution around the digital curve has that international expansion picking up steam. Says Emslie: “I do think that in the last five or six years, we’ve been looking for opportunities to develop partnerships and relationships for organizations or companies around the world.”

Despite the onset of digital technology, the CFC is counting on the fact that global entertainment remains a relationships business. So to get jobs for its graduates, it helps that the CFC can provide professional knowledge and contacts, from founder Jewison and CEO Klymkiw on down to its growing alumni base. That, of course, is why Hollywood director Jewison in 1988 returned to Toronto to launch the CFC to bring Canadian talent to the world market.

And winning friends in Los Angeles is considered the best possible way to get there.