Monday, April 18, 2016 10:26:19 EDT PM
Canadians are encouraged to embrace their national identity this week by watching some homegrown cinema.
But despite the celebratory nature of National Canadian Film Day, local filmmakers are using this opportunity to reflect on the state of Canadian cinema in a country that boasts the largest film and television production centres outside of New York and California.
In recognition of this one-day coast-to-coast celebration of Canadian film, Sudbury Indie Cinema has lined up the screening of two critically acclaimed films: Incendies by Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and The Captive by Atom Egoyan, starring Ryan Reynolds, filmed partly in Sudbury. Egoyan will be joining the Sudbury audience via Skype to introduce the film.
These film screenings being held at Sudbury Theatre Centre are a fundraiser for Sudbury Indie Cinema, a grassroots organization led by filmmaker Beth Mairs geared to promoting and bringing independent cinema to Sudbury.
When Sudbury Indie Cinema polled its membership and Facebook followers as to the types of films they would like to watch as part of the one-day event, they avoided light-hearted comedies like Men With Brooms and Bon Cop Bad Cop.
If last year's showing in Sudbury of Bruce MacDonald's 1989 cult classic RoadKill -- which drew one of the largest crowds in Canada -- is any indication, the Wednesday event should be well attended. And that's not because of rumours that Reynolds will be here for the event. (Repeat: Ryan Reynolds will not attend the Sudbury film screening.)
The branding of National Canadian Film Day involves stereotypical Canadian images like moose and maple syrup, which are "nice, wonderful images," Mairs said, but Canadian film is so much more.
Local cinephiles know that. Over the last six months, half of the films screened by Sudbury Indie Cinema were Canadian films and documentaries, which tended to be better attended than other films offered.
And while it may seem Sudbury already has an appetite for Canadian cinema and may not require a national campaign to generate awareness and appreciation for homegrown productions, encouraging the same attitude and movie viewing behaviour across the country won't happen through a one-day annual campaign, said Mairs.
So is the answer simply making every day National Canadian Film Day?
After all, the film and television production sector in Canada is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and Sudbury is playing a role in that too, although not to the extent of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
According to a 2013 report conducted by Nordicity and commissioned by Motion Picture Association Canada, the country's film and television industry generates about $12.8 billion in labour income and $20.4 billion in gross domestic product.
Ontario film and television production contributed $1.29 billion to the provincial economy in 2014,according to data from the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
About 80 per cent of those projects are television series. But, the majority of those television series are foreign productions.
And then consider most Canadians films fare less fiercely at the box office, and the bigger picture emerges.
Any Canadian indie filmmaker can speak to the challenge of making movies in their home and native land, and securing screen time beyond the film festival circuit.
Movie theatres across Canada screen mostly Hollywood blockbuster films with star names, multi-million dollar budgets and marketing muscle. These are the type of films Canadians gobble up too along with their buttered popcorn.
"From a cultural standpoint, people in the film industry are very concerned," said Mairs.
The three top grossing films of 2015 were Jurassic Park, Star Wars and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But what was the highest grossing Canadian film in 2015?
In February Mongrel Media announced that it was the Irish-Canadian co-production Brooklyn, which was shot by Irish filmmaker John Crowley and starred Irish-American actor Saoirse Ronan. Here's the Canadian part: it was partially shot in Quebec, funded by Canadian agencies and was co-produced by two Montrealers. That's the anatomy of many 'Canadian' films these days.
Essentially, Canada has become a service provider to the American film and television industry, said Benjamin Paquette, director of the motion picture arts program at Laurentian University.
Hollywood, or American film productions, spent more than $1 billion annually in each of the three major Canadian film centres: Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
"The only other cities in the world that can match these stats are Los Angeles and New York," said Paquette. "Unfortunately for Canada and Canadians, American film and TV executives and producers have creative control over the vast majority of these films and TV programs."
Paquette said most Canadians would be hard-pressed to find any film or television series shot in Canada that is also set in Canada with "anything identifiably Canadian."
Paquette won't deny that the film industry has a huge financial impact in the national -- and local -- economy, but culturally, we are at a disadvantage. Paquette who teaches about the history and impact of Canadian cinema, said less than one per cent of Canadians consume Canadian film and television programs.
Paquette said the reasons for this disappointing statistics are "complex and overwhelmingly economic" but can be traced back to the "dawn of filmmaking."
The key to sustainability in the local and regional film industry, he said, is to creating solid infrastructure that provides for the education and training of regional cast and crew. Unfortunately, the "overwhelming" percentage of key cast and crew - those people whose names appear in the opening film credits - are not from Northern Ontario.
Paquette said there is no system in place, with "objective checks and balances," to properly educate and train Northerners who want to be educated and trained.
The vast majority of productions are shot in Northern Ontario because of government grants and tax credit programs, said Paquette, adding that an American production company can double its $1 million investment by simply shooting in the North.
The biggest hindrance to shooting in Northern Ontario, said Paquette, remains its lack of infrastructure, especially when it comes to education and training. "And if we ever want to see our Canadian selves on screen, and if we ever want to tell Canadian stories, then we must start there," he said.