Promises, promises

Having already directed several short films, Alexander Carson finally set out to direct his debut feature film in 2014.

To secure enough funding to produce the film, Carson applied to Telefilm Canada’s micro-budget production program.

His application was successful and on September 27, 2015, O, Brazen Age had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Carson said it would have not been possible to produce his film without financial support from the government.

Although it was completed with Telefilm funding, O, Brazen Age originated as a project with the Canada Council for the Arts.

Carson tries to make films with a strong personal vision, similar to French New Wave or American independent cinema of the seventies, he said.

Different priorities

That tradition is something the Canada Council endorses, but Telefilm, on the other hand, places commercial priorities at the top of its list, Carson said.

So while producing O, Brazen Age, Carson said he felt a need to balance these divergent interests.

“I sort of always felt a little bit pulled in these different directions, sort of wanting to please everyone and yet not wanting to compromise the original intent of the project,” he said.

Carson would like to see Telefilm support more artistically oriented films, he said.

He doesn’t think the government should be responsible for this change, but simply provide the financial infrastructure to make it possible, he said.

Ghosts II – 13 by Nine Inch Nails  | Room is distributed by A24 and Brooklyn is distributed by 20th Century Fox

Carson said he has high hopes for the new Liberal government, which has promised to invest in arts and culture.

This new direction is an unknown to Carson, who spent his entire professional life facing cuts under Stephen Harper each year, he said.

“It wasn’t a happy relationship”— Andrew Cardozo

In 2012, the Conservative government initiated a 10 per cent overall cut in funding to the National Film Board (NFB) and Telefilm Canada over three years.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government didn’t really look at arts from a cultural or nation-building perspective, said Andrew Cardozo, a Carleton University communications professor.

So when it came to their support of Canada’s film industry, its interest was primarily economic, he said.

“It wasn’t a happy relationship, it wasn’t one where the government saw Canadian film as being an industry worth promoting in any significant way,” Cardozo said.

Marc Séguin, who oversees policy initiatives at the Canadian Media Producers Association, said the previous government’s cuts to the film industry could actually have been a lot larger, given the fiscal pressures they were facing.

Telefilm also did a remarkable job minimizing the effect the cuts had on film production by instead fixing administrative inefficiencies, Séguin said.

“They managed those cuts in a way where the impact felt by the industry, at the end of the day, was as minimal as possible,” he said.

Following the 2012 cuts, Telefilm’s spending on film development and production, through the Canada Feature Film Fund, declined to $89 million from $97 million.

Given Canada’s proximity to Hollywood, one of the most powerful entertainment machines in the world, there’s a real need for the government to help Canada’s film industry, Cardozo said.

It is the government’s responsibility to support the film industry or it wouldn’t be able to function, Séguin said.

“If there wasn’t public support at both the federal and provincial level, I can guarantee you that the Canadian theatrical film sector in both French Canada and English Canada would be a fraction of what it is today,” he said.

New promises

In its 2015 election platform, the Liberal party pledged to invest in Canada’s art and cultural industries, stating “these industries have been under attack during the Harper decade.”

Its platform targeted $25 million in additional funding for Telefilm and NFB each year.

In the 2016 federal budget, the government only increased funding by $5 million to Telefilm and $3 million to NFB, $17 million less than proposed during the campaign.

“Better served if it was actually spent on a screen and not to a bank”— Marc Séguin

Séguin thinks the time has come for the government to take a fresh look at the support system it offers the film industry.

He proposed making Canada’s tax credit system more efficient for film producers, who currently have to borrow from a bank against the tax credits, forcing them to pay interest.

“The money they pay on interest charges, I think, could be better served if it was actually spent on a screen and not to a bank,” Séguin said.

There is also a school of thought in the film industry that the government needs to develop a new mechanism to attract more private finance to supplement public funding of film production, Séguin said.

“I think the idea of our industry going to government year after year and saying ‘give us another $100 million,” I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

Header Photo courtesy of Alexander Carson

Duncan Chalmers is a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. He is passionate about all forms of arts and culture. He wouldn't be offended by any job offers.

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