Point of View

Point of View: What’s Wrong with Canadian Film and Television?

Christopher Comrie shares what has been a long term discussion behind closed doors in this week’s Point of View: What’s Wrong with Canadian Film and Television?

PART I: DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL

First, let me make one thing clear: I love my native country, Canada. So, you just know there is a “but” coming.

But…

As a nation, we are performing well below our abilities as far as our film and television output are concerned.

A few months ago, I was invited to attend a discussion panel organized by the Young Emerging Actors Assembly at ACTRA. The subject was “Tuning Canadians Into Canada”, and the objective was to examine the lack of interest Canadians have in watching media created by Canadians for Canadians. Or, as the notice put it:

‘Canadian content and production is at an unprecedented level and quality not seen for the past twenty years. Despite this, in some instances Canadians aren’t tuning in. Is there a disconnect between our product and what Canadians want to watch? Or is there a lack of awareness or marketing? Our panel discussion aims to bring together various representatives from the Canadian Film & Television Industry to discuss this complex issue, examine the factors involved, and comment on how to overcome these challenges.’

I could barely concentrate that day at work in production, I was so excited. Because I started in film and television when I was a kid, this issue has actually been a preoccupation of mine for many years, and I had steadily been amassing questions and observations about it in a large spiral bound notebook. Finally someone had seen fit to drag this bizarre situation into the cold light of day and talk about it. And make no mistake, it is bizarre. I have spent time in France, Italy, Poland, Hungary, South Africa, England, Scotland, Mexico, and Jamaica. In every one of those places the citizens consumed a steady diet of locally produced television and film. Not so in Canada. And yes, I am excluding Québec, because, well, it’s Québec, and as usual they don’t conform to the rest of the country. They have a history of watching Quebecois film and TV.

I don’t have all the facts and figures at my fingertips, but if you doubt me, here’s a quick test.  Ask yourself or a Canadian friend these questions:

Name ten Canadian directors. Name ten Canadian actors. Name ten Canadian TV shows. Name ten Canadian movies from the last ten years.

If either of you can answer these questions, then you probably work at the CBC archives.

The ACTRA panel talked for an hour, then opened the floor to questions. I sat in the middle second row with my hand up the whole time. The moderator would glance nervously at me and the overflowing notebook on me knee then call on someone else. I was not given the chance to speak. Obviously no one wanted to hear from anyone with an opinion. At one point, a young actor hesitantly asked, “Why is Canadian TV so…sh*tty…?” The panel was outraged and she was shouted down and told that her opinion did not matter. Really.

In the end, all we learned was that Canuck film and TV had had a hard road, but was gradually gaining in popularity, so we should all just keep plugging along. And don’t dare to suggest that the quality was not top notch.

Well that’s just nonsense. We can’t keep going the way we’ve been going, because it’s never worked, and the rules are changing drastically as online media replaces traditional theatrical releases and network television. We have to figure out how to present our visual media to the world now, before we’re left behind again. There is no lack of Canadian talent, but it seems most of it is on the payroll in Hollywood, making money for the US.

In subsequent posts, I’m going to open my big old notebook, and examine possible reasons for our relative invisibility not only to the world but to ourselves as well, as far as visual storytelling is concerned.

 

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