In the funding race, it's TV C$200 mil, film $33.5 mil

MONTREAL — The Toronto Intl. Film Festival always showcases many of the best Canuck films of the year and, in recent years, several Canadian pics have generated considerable buzz and strong sales at the fest. But in spite of the success of homegrown titles like “Kissed,” “The Hanging Garden,” “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Cube,” financing Canadian features has become even more difficult and boffo box-office results continue to elude Canadian filmmakers.

Television production in the Great White North receives much more public cash than the film sector, with TV producers scooping up around C$200 million ($134 million) annually. Feature film nabs a relatively paltry $33.5 million each year, with $23.5 million from federal funding agency Telefilm Canada and another $10 million from the Canadian Television Fund.

Stagnant budgets

Producers complain that they are working with the same budgets as 10 years ago, often in the range of $1 million to $3 million, which it makes it hard to compete with pricier indie productions from Europe and elsewhere. The federal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps has promised to beef-up financing of the film industry, but she has yet to introduce the new feature-film fund, which was initially set to be unveiled last fall. The fund would reportedly kick-in an added $33.5 million in annual public financing.

“Feature film has always been a bit neglected,” says Francois Macerola, executive director of Telefilm Canada. “With television, you have the Broadcast Act (to support Canadian programming) and (pubcaster) CBC. You have a star system in television, you have an infrastructure. I’m still dreaming of an industrial base for feature film. We need to increase the critical mass of the Canadian films available and we have to increase the quality.”

Matters have not been helped by the storm of controversy surrounding the film and TV tax-credit system following allegations of abuse by Cinar Corp. and other companies. But, a year after the Cinar scandal broke, Macerola insists it’s clear the tax-credit program is a good one and shouldn’t be shelved because of problems with a small number of companies. The Cinar controversy, however, has made it difficult for the federal government or any of the provincial governments to unveil any new tax-credit initiatives.

Only a handful of film companies in Canada with the cash-flow to make more expensive pics, notably Alliance Atlantis Communications, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and TVA Intl.

“We’re looking to expand the menu,” says Bill House, executive VP, motion-picture production at Alliance Atlantis. “We want to take advantage of larger-budget situations, but you have to have substantial resources to do that. Budgets need to rise. But to attract audiences theatrically, you also have to think of projects with more entertaining qualities.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood production is booming in Canada and that has put upward pressure on crew wages in major centers like Toronto, notes Adam Ostry, CEO of the Ontario Film Development Corp. That in turns makes life tougher for small and mid-sized Canadian film producers, who don’t have the resources of the studio producers.

Marketing focus

Canadian film producers could take a page out of the Hollywood film book and funnel more money into marketing, says Ostry.

“Successive governments have focused on production, but what our American counterparts have shown us is that you have to market the product to interest the customers,” says Ostry. “There’s no support for marketing. There is a certain myopia within the industry.”

One solution, argues Ostry, is a tax-credit for marketing pics, a proposal the Ontario Film Development Corp. is investigating.

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