James Bond was sidelined by COVID-19. Black Widow too. Now a major film producer and distributor in Quebec cautions that the cinema of an entire nation – our nation – could be negatively affected by funding changes made over the course of the pandemic.
At issue is Fast Track, a program overseen by Telefilm Canada that delivers more than $20 million dollars annually into Canadian film production. This summer it was suspended, ostensibly because the Crown corporation could no longer effectively calculate its Success Index, which relies heavily on such metrics as Canadian theatrical box office and international festivals. Both have been hobbled by COVID.
Patrick Roy is president of Les Films Séville and head of cinema distribution at Entertainment One. He’s worked with a who’s who of Canadian filmmakers that includes Denys Arcand, François Girard, Jay Baruchel, Kim Nguyen and Xavier Dolan. And he’s worried what the end of Fast Track could mean for Canadian productions in the years ahead.
“Fast Track was the only tool we had that was giving us some predictability, which is important for a distributor,” he says. “When we work with a producer with Fast Track, we have a much better idea when the movie will be produced. You can invest in a film, and distribute the film five years later. And in five years the market is changing a lot. So predictability is extremely important.”
One of the proposed changes to the program is to increase funding to films by under-represented groups or, as Telefilm Canada puts it, “through a lens of diversity and inclusion in order to abolish systemic racism.”
Roy applauds the ends, just not the means. “We all agree that diversity and inclusion is essential,” he says. “But they’re trying to set it up as a dichotomy, and it’s not. These issues are not mutually exclusive. You should be able to maintain Fast Track and (also) address the diversity and inclusion issue.”
La culture est l’âme de peuple. Culture is the soul of the nation
He continues: “ La culture est l’âme de peuple . Culture is the soul of the nation. But to be able to achieve that it has to also show the diversity of our society. So we all agree this is something we have to improve, this is something we have to address. We’re all part of the discussion about finding ways to address these issues. The work is being done.”
But with Fast Track stalled and in the midst of reinvention, the risk is that creators will find themselves similarly idled. And Roy isn’t alone in his concerns. Last month a group of top Canadian producers wrote a letter to Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, expressing concerns over the agency’s commitment to diversity ahead of Fast Track funding.
Meanwhile, the show must go on. “There’s a huge need for content,” says Roy. “The reality is the demand for content has never been greater than it is now. If we’re paralyzed, the risk is we’ll end up next year or the year after with a gap because movies were not produced. And this is what we’re trying to avoid here.”
When asked how important Telefilm’s contributions are to the national film industry, Roy is blunt. “It’s crucial. It’s essential. In a small country like Canada, if culture is not funded by the government, there’s no culture. Telefilm Canada plays an essential role.”
He notes that, in Quebec at least, la Société de développement des entreprises culturelles is working to fill the gap. “SODEC … has stepped up,” he says. “They’ve decided in many cases to compensate for the lack of involvement by Telefilm Canada by increasing their investment in these movies.”
But that only extends as far as the province’s borders. And Roy has this advice for Telefilm Canada: “During a crisis you focus on helping the basic needs, and on what works. You shouldn’t focus on trying to reinvent the wheel. That’s what they’re doing now.”
He’s also worried about seeds of discord sprouting in the film community. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen so much division,” he says. “People going public from one side to the other, complaining about other people’s positions.”
Last month, for instance, the Directors Guild of Canada published a “Directors Manifesto” calling for the complete abolition of Fast Track. “The current system only exacerbates the underrepresentation of historically excluded groups, most starkly on the basis of region, gender and [race],” the group wrote. This even as producers were arguing to reinstate the program.
“This is not what should happen now,” Roy says. “At this point we should all be together … reminding the federal government that they said during the last election that they would increase the budget of Telefilm Canada by $50 million. They haven’t done it yet. And this is what we should focus on. It could make a big difference. We need this extra money that was promised.”
In the end, he says, “the only focus of Telefilm Canada should have been that movies were being produced. We’ve all worked so hard … trying to build this industry, and this is what’s at stake here.
“So I’m worried.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020