ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

After observing the recent success of Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, it seems that Canada’s independent film industry is thriving. Filmmakers like Dolan, Denise Villeneuve, David Cronenberg, and Atom Egoyan give the Canadian film industry a refined sensibility that often results in international success, recognition, and critical praise. Yet these canonical filmmakers comprise just a small part of the industry. It’s an industry that is divided and, for the most part, unsupported by a large majority of Canadians. 

The Québécois effect

In recent years, there has stood a stark divide between the Québécois film industry and the rest of Canada, which is largely due to the cultural barrier between provincial borders. Since Dolan’s success with I Killed My Mother in 2009, he has consistently produced films that garner international acclaim. In 2014, he won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Mommy, which later became the highest grossing Québécois film that year. Outside of Québec, its release was limited to Toronto and Ottawa.

There has stood a stark divide between the Québécois film industry and the rest of Canada, which is largely due to the cultural barrier between provincial borders.

Similarly, Atom Egoyan’s 2014 feature The Captive scored high at the box offices throughout Canada. It quickly became clear that its financial success was driven by support of the large Québécois viewership.

The Québécois are more keen to offer support of local filmmakers. The highest grossing film in Canadian history is Erik Canuel’s Bon Cop, Bad Cop — it made over $11 million dollars in 2006, with almost $10 million resulting from the success of the French-Canadian version in Québec. Outside of Québec, it seems like the rest of Canada is doing little to support local filmmakers, whose artistry is often overshadowed by high budget Hollywood films.

Show me the money

It’s not hard to imagine why Québécois are committed to supporting Quebec artists. Quebec is notorious for taking careful consideration when it comes to preserving their culture, and part of the success of Québécois film lies in the prominent featuring of French-Canadian actors. Since each component of the film is produced largely in Quebec, this works to maintain a sense of solidarity and a shared cultural identity.

This rationale does not extend to English-Canadian films, as they seem to continuously suffer box office failures. One explanation could be the strong professional ties to the American film industry. English-speaking Canada shares many similarities to the US, which results in an assimilation of cultural identity and the sharing of talent with Hollywood.

Villeneuve’s Prisoners and Enemy and Jean Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club both Canadian directors have received international and North American critical acclaim and box office success. Dolan’s first English film, The Death and Life of John F. Donavan, is being produced south of the border and will feature an all-star cast of Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, and Kit Harrington. Canada’s film industry remains polarized and is being pulled towards where the money is: Hollywood.

Have some faith

Right now, Canada’s method of funding independent films lacks in developing talent. There are only two government bodies that allocate funding for films: Telefilm and National Film Board.

A solution would be for English-Canadians to more actively support its own film industry. Movie theatres across Canada would benefit from designating screens exclusively for Canadian films. Right now, Canada’s method of funding independent films lacks in developing talent. There are only two government bodies that allocate funding for films: Telefilm and National Film Board.

In a recent interview, Matt Johnson, writer and director of films such as The Dirties and Operation Avalanche, mentioned that his “big issue is that every single year 75 per cent of Telefilm’s funding goes to more or less the same kind of cabal of old-school Canadian filmmakers.” This restriction means strict limitations are placed on talent development and diversification of content.

Get your head out of the snow

Canadian films serve as vehicles for the Canadian voice and identity. Over the past couple of years, many films at the Toronto International Film Festival were seen as homogenous and perpetuating the Canadian stereotype.

“You can make films in this country that are not Canadian in the stigma-inducing maple syrup Canadiana kind of bullshit way. But that you can actually make things with a strong voice that can go out, that can play anywhere in the world and stand up because they’re really strong and powerful stories, that happen to be Canadian,” said Andrew Cevedino, director of Sleeping Giant.

The low figures these films generate may be an indicator that the stereotype-dependent formula isn’t working. Dramatic, quirky, coming-of-age, or hockey — none of these genres do justice to the complexity of the Canadian identity.

For the English-Canadian film industry, change is necessary in all aspects of production,  from creation to consumption. There needs to be more funding for a wider variety of films and support from theatres and audiences is key. Canadians are much more than a stereotype, and it’s time for the film industry to reflect this in both English and French Canada.

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