The Canadian Film Centre celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a winning pedigree. More than 1,500 creative and entrepreneurial Canuck talents have moved through the CFC’s ever-evolving advanced screen training programs, establishing themselves in the international entertainment business. So fitting, then, the CFC’s campus is set in the heritage buildings on the bucolic grounds of Toronto’s Windfields Farm, the birthplace of 1964 Kentucky Derby champion Northern Dancer.
The sire, so to speak, of this vital, game-impacting institute is legendary cinema artist Norman Jewison, who saw a need for a career-boosting training ground in his home country and dedicated himself to make it happen.
“Back then we didn’t have sophisticated film schools like UCLA or Columbia, and you gotta have a place where young directors, writers, producers and editors can gather to communicate,” Jewison says. The center launched with one program attended by 12 residents. “Filmmakers must be given the tools so they can struggle on their own. So we had our residents make short films so they could develop within the Canadian industry.” he says.
Fast forward 25 years and the CFC is ablaze with forward-leaning film, TV and new media training programs and incubators. This intense convergence of ambition and project-driven camaraderie of young professionals, committed mentors and the innovation-minded CFC staff has yielded 154 shorts, 21 features and 120 digital media prototypes and accelerated the development of close to 200 media companies (Christina Jennings’ Shaftesbury, Steven Hoban’s Copperheart and many digital-focused shingles).
The “act local, think global” mantra is increasingly important. As CFC CEO Slawko Klymkiw explains, boosting entertainment businesses and products and unveiling talent to international markets have become key CFC strategies. “We’re a small country, borders are less important now — if you look at the number of our friends and alumni in L.A. you realize it’s important to build relationships outside of Canada to create a climate that will help sustain our industry.” The
CFC’s North South Marketplace, for example, sparks financing and production opportunities for Canuck talent in the U.S.
“We are constantly considering the pragmatic outcomes of our programs in light of the ways people will engage with entertainment,” he adds. “How to marry changes in technology, the way people interact with content and the creative community is a triangulation that interests us.”
The film program has long included a strand to develop and package features to present to the international marketplace. The CFC also executive produces low-budget features (in the $500,000 to $1.5 million range) — now open to first, second and third-time Canuck directors with a full script and team in place — mirroring industry standards for packaging and facilitating tailored mentorship through production, festival runs and theatrical release by distribution partner eOne.
Recent film adds include the CFC-NFB docu lab (through which Sarah Polley made her acclaimed “Stories We Tell”) and the Comedy Exchange, a successful high-level biz catalyst for feature laffers that includes a whirlwind networking stop in Hollywood.
L.A.-based Vincenzo Natali (“Haunter”) was a CFC resident in 1995, made a short in 1996 and his feature bow “Cube” in 1997. “I am probably the record-holder for time served,” he laughs. “I owe my career to the center, to me it’s the hub of Canadian cinema and unique in the world because the training it offers is personalized.”
Collaboration isn’t just among residents. Paul Haggis, named CFC film chair in late 2011, helmed a reading of his latest script with Actors Conservatory residents that led to a major rewrite and has invited Directors’ Lab class to be the first test audience of the rough cut. “I hope it’s a good experience for them too,” he jokes, adding, “I’ve been impressed with how experienced and knowledgeable they are.”
CFC TV programs includes Showrunner Bootcamp, now in its second year, that gives experienced TV writers a networking-knowledge building boost in the growing U.S.-Canada co-production scenario. The long-running Prime Time strand puts eight writers through a storyroom experience to deliver scripts for an original series created by an exec producer who serves as mentor. “Regensis” (Shaftesbury) was spawned from the CFC as was BBC America’s soon-to-air sci-fi skein “Orphan Black.”
“The best thing about the (writers) room experience was developing that ability to work with others, take and give notes and to not be a jerk,” says Rob Sheridan (“Mad Love,” “Corner Gas”) by phone from L.A. “Considering the doors that opened for me, the CFC was nothing less than life-changing. ”
Launched in 2012, the Music Lab takes in two composers and two songwriters per session and puts them an array of scenarios. “What’s wonderful about the center is how it adapts and morphs as technology and the industry changes,” says Music Lab chair and Oscar-winning composer Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”). “The CFC is a hotbed for collaboration and the addition of music completes the picture.”
Says outgoing comedy chair and current board member Eugene Levy: “The CFC is the greatest thing to hit Canada since the National Film Board. Where else would you get to sit down with Ivan Reitman and have him go through your project and give his personal assessment and advice?”