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Northern exposure

Canuck issues surface at Mipcom debates

FROM MIPCOM
CANNES — Mipcom tipped its hat toward the Canadian market Tuesday with a series of lectures focusing on the country’s ascension as the world’s No. 2 TV exporter. But despite its impressive export efforts of the past few years, tension both on and offstage in Cannes made it clear that all isn’t quiet on the northern front.

French culture minister Catherine Trautman announced that ongoing calls for a retooling of the Franco-Canadian co-production treaty would be brought up at a meeting with top industry execs in Montreal later this year.

French animation production companies have been claiming in recent months that Canadian toonsters were using the treaty to access France’s public funding system.

But dissension toward the Canadian government’s financial policies didn’t just come from external sources.

On the homefront, some of Canada’s production executives called for a revision of the country’s financing policies toward its own producers as well, and sparked hot debate during the discussions.

Steve Levitan, founder of Protocol, which produces programs such as “Goosebumps,” said that the current mandate for subsidized programs to reflect Canadian culture was an unreasonable definition of who should receive government funds as a measure of support.

“Culture is not something you create, it’s something that happens,” he said. “Now, paradoxes sum up the entire entertainment industry in our country.”

He went on to say that television programs looking for funds would alienate wider, global audiences by playing to Canadian nationalism, and change was in order if the country’s programming boom were to continue, a feeling shared by some of the buyers examining Canadian product.

“It’s easier to sell to the U.S. first then worry about Canada,” Levitan said.

Still, with production in Canada increasing by 70% over the past five years, thanks largely to a plethora of co-production deals, other panelists were quick to defend the country’s policies.

“Without subsidies, independents in the U.S. have largely been wiped out,” said Michael Hirsh, co-founder of Nelvana. “I know Nelvana never would have sustained its business without that support.”

Canada provided funding for 724 children’s program hours in 1996 through subsidy arms Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fund. Yet even the staunchest supporter of the current funding system present at the panels admitted that even though local production was up, a redefinition of the methodology of redistributing funds was in order to ensure future growth.

“Some might say that we have arrived at a crossroads in our policies and programs,” said Francois Macerola, executive director of Telefilm Canada, earlier, “which, it is argued, were designed in the days when producers could not be broadcasters, who could not be distributors, who could not be cable operators, and so on.”

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