Volume 93, Issue 39

Tuesday, November 9, 1999


Looking beyond the beer and the beavers

Looking beyond the beer and the beavers

By Molly Duignan and Becky Somerville
Gazette Staff

The quest to identify Canadian culture may lead some to wonder if nationality and cultural identity are influenced by Canadian media and entertainment. Or could it be that Canadian culture is limited to the Heritage Minutes commercials on television squeezed between primarily American programs?

Perhaps Canadian films should be an answer to the search for culture. According to Angela Stukator, an assistant professor of film studies at Western, Canadian films are as good as any American films. She said the problem, however, lies in the inaccessibility of the media.

"London is a pathetic source for the exhibition of film. If people can't see a Canadian film, how are they to acknowledge if it is good or not?" Canadian films are better recognized internationally than nationally, she added, due to the poor distribution and exhibition of films in Canada.

In teaching Canadian cinema, Stukator said she has witnessed a tendency among her students to relate more readily with Canadian films over American ones. Perhaps, she said, because Canadian films tap into a sense of Canadian identity.

"All the ingredients for great Canadian films are there," Stukator said of the availability of actors, directors and writers nationwide. "All that is needed is a strong support system behind and in front of the films."

Stukator added despite the lack of wide spread distribution in Canadian theatres, the marketing of video tapes helps the film industry immensely, as Canadians are still able to rent them from video stores for a low price.

Malcom Silver, a financier of television and film productions in Toronto, said Canadian shows and the industry in general are in no way lagging in culture. He argued the Canadian market is vastly improving, changing and maturing.

Increasingly, he said, the public are able to see television shows in which a Canadian actor or crew member is an integral part of the program. "This is a trend that will strengthen and not weaken. Recognition and popularity of less stereotypically Canadian shows is getting better," he said.

Silver explained there are two options for commercially driven film and television producers. "You either make shows for international acceptance and success, or you make shows for Canadians." He accredited the Canadian government for help in the increasing popularity of the Canadian film industry.

Government funding, Silver added, allows a producer to receive money in the form of federal or provincial tax credits, provided the film contains a strong Canadian component. He said these opportunities for funding are great because they keep the broadcaster motivated to operate by Canadian content requirements and therefore produce a more Canadian show.

According to Marc Séguin, chief analyst of the English film market for the Canadian Heritage Ministry, there are many funding support mechanisms in place which target specific areas within the film industry, from creation to distribution. "[These mechanisms] ensure that Canadians have access to distinctively Canadian films," Séguin said.

He explained a 10 point system exists which helps to discern whether or not a film can be defined as "Canadian." Mostly related to expenditure requirements and the number of Canadians involved in the project, the system requires the production to meet at least six of the criteria in order to qualify as Canadian and thus be eligible for governmental support.

"Feature filmmaking is by far the most expensive cultural industry in the world," Séguin said. The imposing cultural influence which the United States has on the entertainment industry in Canada makes it especially challenging for filmmakers to finance their projects.

"Raising money to make a film is difficult because [Canada is] a small market," he added. "People won't invest in a film if they can't recoup their costs."

Sylvia Jonescu Lisitza, executive director of Moving Images Distribution, a Vancouver-based distributor of Canadian independent film and video, said the organization receives funding from the government as well as private sources. "If we didn't have government support, the Canadian stories would suffer in a big way," she said. "I think that [the Ministry of] Canadian Heritage support has helped to offset the need for work to be strictly commercial."

Despite the fact the federal government has helped to facilitate Canadian culture, Jonescu Lisitza said the lack of venues for the film industry leaves exposure to Canadian film very inaccessible to the public. "Screen space is a problem for Canadian film. Programming is controlled too much by the major chains."

However, Jonescu Lisitza added, through avenues such as specialty channels, Moving Images Distribution is able to gain exposure for the work of Canadians in the film industry.

According to Michael Reid, a Western graduate with a bachelor of arts in kinesiology and film, Canadian film suffers due to a lack of nationality and sense of Canadian culture in general.

"Canadian films are largely unseen and their subject matter addresses certain aspects of Canadian culture but do not really focus on a Canadian identity," he said.

Reid added Canadian films should not be looked to as the sole source for culture in Canada, but instead as a source of entertainment.

©Graphic by Colin Butler

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