Film policy flops in English Canada

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Sep 21 15:58:32 UTC 2005

>>From the Gobe and Mail,

Film policy flops in English Canada: report

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Posted at 5:28 PM EDT

Ottawa After five years and almost half a billion dollars, the federal
government's vaunted program to boost Canadian feature films appears to be
a bust in English Canada, a new study suggests. Almost no one is showing
up in theatres to see the films, despite loads of tax dollars for scripts,
production and marketing. Ottawa has been supporting domestic feature
films for decades but in 2000 overhauled its policy, setting itself the
goal of boosting Canada's box-office share to at least five per cent

An independent review of that policy five years later has found that the
goal has nearly been reached 4.6 per cent but only because French
Canadians are flocking to Quebec theatres in droves.

In English Canada, where most of the development money is being spent, the
market share was a paltry 1.6 per cent for 2004. We've come a very, very
long way . . . (but) the figure is still embarrassingly low for the
English market, Susanne Vaas, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Film and
Television Production Association, said in an interview. The
just-completed study was commissioned by Canadian Heritage from Nordicity
Group Ltd. and was obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Since the new policy was announced, about $463-million has been spent to
back Canadian feature films, the lion's share through Telefilm Canada to
directly support production. Some $8-million, for example, was spent to
generate 366 scripts, 249 of them in English Canada. In English Canada,
however, there is evidence to suggest that producers have generally not
used the scripts, the Nordicity report notes.

The new policy, dubbed From Script to Screen, also attempted to boost
average production budgets for Canadian feature films to $5-million and
average marketing budgets to $500,000. Latest numbers suggest the
production funding target was reached, for an average of $6.1 million per
film. But it cautioned that the number is skewed by a small number of
big-budget films. The marketing target fell short, at $385,000 for the
average film in the last figures available from 2004.

But the report also found there was little relation anyway in English
Canada between the budgets and the number of Canadians who could be lured
into theatres to see the subsidized films. The evaluation was also
critical of the Genie awards show, the annual televised celebration of
Canadian film. Canadian Heritage currently provides $450,000 annually to
support the telecast, even though it draws only about 550,000 viewers.
That's about half the audience for French-language equivalent, the Jutras,
which receive just $100,000 in federal support.

The national English-language televised awards show (the Genies) is not
very effective and does not draw well, the report concludes. Paul Gratton,
chairman of the board for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television,
defended the show, noting the audience had increased from 350,000 two
years ago. Gratton, whose academy sponsors the awards, also said the
ratings simply reflect the lack of interest shown by English Canadians in
home-grown films.

The great challenge is English Canadians' indifference to English Canadian
movies, and the Genies are a very noble attempt to crack that every year,
he said from Toronto. The evaluation makes clear that Canada's film policy
works well in Quebec, where box-office share has risen to a respectable 21
per cent. The French-language market is more cohesive and integrated, and
less subject to competition from Hollywood. But in English Canada,
bombarded by big-budget American films, the millions of tax dollars poured
into feature films did not make much headway.

Box-office share was 1.4 per cent in 2000, the year the policy was begun,
and fell below this threshold in the following three years. Only in 2004
was it higher, at 1.6 per cent. The Nordicity report noted that the 2004
number rose thanks to a few international co-productions, such as 2004's
Being Julia which starred American Annette Benning. Being Julia took in
just under $1 million at the box office in Canada.

Other supported films such as Ginger Snaps, Lost and Delirious, Maelstrom
were far less successful. The evaluation makes a series of
recommendations, chief of which are to retain box-office share as a key
measure of success, but to set differing targets for the French and
English markets. Canadian Heritage says it is reviewing the program and
will proposes changes next year. Senate and Commons committees are also
examining cultural policy, including support for feature films.

Marc Seguin, senior policy director for the Canadian Film and Television
Production Association, applauded the report's call for different
approaches to the English and French markets. The association represents
about 400 production companies in Canada. A national policy can be
asymmetrical and still be national, he said. You need to recognize that
the two markets are different. The hill in English Canada is way steeper
and way more slippery.

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