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North American cinema
This article primarily discusses the English-language cinema in Canada. For information on French-language cinema in Canada, see also Cinema of Quebec.

Canadian cinema refers to filmmakers and the filmmaking industries in Canada. Canada is home to several film industry (production and distribution) centres: primarily Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Industries and communities tend to be regional and niche in nature. Approximately 970 Anglophone-Canadian feature-length films have been produced, or partially produced by the Canadian film industry since 1911.

Many Canadians migrate to the American industry in search of success - Canadian filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Paul Haggis, James Cameron, and Norman Jewison have all received accolades and awards from the world's most prestigious honorary organizations. (James Cameron directed the two highest grossing movies of all time, Titanic and Avatar).

Contents

Overview

Early history

The first films that were shot in Canada were made at Niagara Falls; Lumière, Edison, and Biograph all shot there in 1897. James Freer is recognized as the first Canadian filmmaker. A farmer from Manitoba, his documentaries were shown as early as 1897 and were toured across England in an effort to promote immigration to Manitoba.

The first fiction film, "Hiawatha, The Messiah of the Ojibways", was made in 1903 by Joe Rosenthal and the first Canadian feature film, Evangeline, was produced by the Canadian Bioscope Company in 1913 and shot in Nova Scotia.

In 1917, the province of Ontario established the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, "to carry out educational work for farmers, school children, factory workers, and other classes." The Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau followed in 1918.

In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British film critic and film-maker, to study the state of the government's film production and this led to the National Film Act of 1939 and the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada, an agency of the Canadian government. In part, it was founded to create propaganda in support of the Second World War, and the National Film Act of 1950 gave it the mandate "to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations." In the late 1950s, Québécois filmmakers at the NFB and the NFB Candid Eye series of films pioneered the documentary processes that became known as "direct cinema" or cinema vérité.

Federal government measures as early as 1954, and through the 1960s and 1970s, aimed to foster the development of a feature film industry in Canada; in 1968 the Canadian Film Development Corporation was established (later to become Telefilm Canada) and an effort to stimulate domestic production through tax shelters peaked in the late 1970s (see Meatballs below).

Contemporary production and distribution

As in all cinema, the line between broadcast and cinema continues to be blurred in Canada as the means of production and distribution converge.

A typical Canadian film production is made with money from a complex array of government funding and incentives, government mandated funds from broadcasters, broadcasters themselves, and film distributors. International co-productions are increasingly important for Canadian producers. Smaller films are often funded by arts councils (at all levels of government) and film collectives.

The National Film Board of Canada is internationally renowned for its animation and documentary production. More recently it has been criticized for its increasingly commercial orientation; only one third of its budget is now spent on the production of new films.[citation needed]

Much of Canada's film industry services American producers and films driven by American distribution, and this part of the industry has been nick-named "Hollywood North".

The major production centres are Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver; Vancouver is the third largest film and television production centre in North America after Los Angeles and New York.

Alliance Atlantis (acquired by CanWest Global Communications in 2007) is the major Canadian distributor of American and international films and in 2003 it ceased to produce films (and almost all television) to focus almost exclusively on distribution. Lions Gate Entertainment has also become a major distributor in recent years.

Distribution continues to be a problem for Canadian filmmakers, though an established network of film festivals also provide important marketing and audience exposure for Canadian films. The major festival is the Toronto International Film Festival, considered one of the most important events in North American film, showcasing Hollywood films, cinema from around the world, and Canadian film. The smaller Vancouver International Film Festival features films from around the world, and festivals in Montreal, Sudbury (Cinéfest), and Halifax (Atlantic Film Festival)—among other cities—are also important opportunities for Canadian filmmakers to gain exposure among film audiences.

Problems in the Canadian film industry

Of all Canadian cultural industries, English-Canadian cinema has the hardest time escaping the shadow of its American counterpart. Between the marketing budgets of mainstream films, and the largely US-controlled film distribution networks, it has been nearly impossible for most distinctively Canadian films to break through to a wide audience. Although Canadian films have often received critical praise, and the National Film Board has won more Academy Awards than almost any other institution (for both their animation and documentary work), in many Canadian cities, moviegoers do not even have the option of seeing such films, as they have poor distribution and are not shown at any theatres. One This Hour Has 22 Minutes sketch parodied an Atom Egoyan-like director whose films had won numerous international awards, but had never actually been released or exhibited.

Almost all Canadian films fail to make back their production costs at the box office. For example, Men With Brooms made CA$1,000,000 in its general domestic release, which by Canadian standards is fairly high. However, it was made on a budget of over CA$7,000,000. (French-Canadian films, on the other hand, are often more successful—as with French-language television, the language difference makes Quebec audiences much more receptive to Canadian-produced film. In most years, the top-grossing Canadian film is a French-language film from Quebec. (See also Cinema of Quebec.) By comparison, Australian films, made in a country with a smaller population than Canada's, more frequently make their money back from the domestic market. Many do comparatively better; the best known example is Mad Max, made with the then unknown Mel Gibson, and with a budget of AU$350,000, and which made AU$5.6 million in its domestic release alone.

Although many Canadians have made their names in Hollywood, they have often started their careers in Los Angeles, despite Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal being thriving filmmaking centres in their own right. Some actors or directors who have started their early careers in Canada include: David Cronenberg, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Ivan Reitman, Seth Rogen, Eugene Levy, Tom Green, Scott Mosier, and Paul Haggis. However, despite these successes, several actors have favoured moving to Los Angeles to further pursue their careers.

Canada's difficulties in the film industry are often difficult to explain. The following explanations have been proposed for why Canadian films and television have often failed completely to find an export market:[citation needed]

  • Films labelled as American films could often be better described as collaborations between Canada and the US. In addition, films which are sometimes designated as "American" productions often involve a higher-percentage of Canadian participation but the "American" designation is favoured for tax purposes. Also, unlike other countries who tend to have citizens with discernible accents, the American media too rarely highlights or identifies actors, actresses, directors or producers as Canadian in origin, leaving the false perception that few Canadians work in the industry.
  • Canada's film industry competes directly with that of the United States. Production costs between the two countries are similar (they are lower in Australia) meaning that Canadian films often need a budget equal to that of an American film of similar quality. Canadian film studios rarely, if ever, have the budgets to make films that can directly compete with the most popular Hollywood fare. Instead, the vast majority of Canadian films are character-driven dramas or quirky comedies of the type that often appeal to critics and art house film audiences more than to mass audiences.
  • During the 1970s, Canada's tax policy encouraged making films merely to obtain a significant tax credit. As such, many films were produced merely for tax purposes, and quality became unimportant. For example, producers of Canadian films were allowed to take a fee out of the production costs, something that is not allowed in the United States, where producers may only take a fee once the film earns back its production costs (the exact situation that drove the plot line in The Producers).
  • While British, Australian and American filmmakers embrace their cultural heritage in film, Canadian films often have no discernible connection to Canada. It often comes as a surprise to many people that movies like Porky's and The Art of War were partially produced in Canada, as they are indistinguishable from films made entirely in the United States.
  • When there are major Canadian productions, the lead roles often go to American or British actors. For example, in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, both the role of Duddy and his father went to American-born actors (the then unknown Richard Dreyfuss and the established character actor Jack Warden respectively). Joseph Wiseman, who played Duddy's uncle, was born in Montreal, but had not lived or worked in Canada in over forty years. Although this phenomenon is not as common today as it was in the 1970s, Canadian films do still sometimes cast famous foreign actors: Michael Caine starred in the 2003 film The Statement, and Helena Bonham Carter played the lead role in 1996's Margaret's Museum.
  • Unlike radio and television, which both have strict Canadian content regulations, there is no protection for Canadian content in movie theatres. The distribution networks for Canadian movie theatres are largely controlled by the American studio system, and Canada is in fact the only non-U.S. country that is considered part of the domestic market by Hollywood studios. As a result, the marketing budgets and screening opportunities for Canadian films are limited. In many cities outside of Canada's largest metropolitan markets, the local movie theatres almost never book a Canadian film, and even in many of the major markets Canadian films are usually only available in repertory theatres. Once again, the exception is Quebec, which has many French-Canadian produced films running on multiple screens all over the province alongside both French-produced films and dubbed or subtitled American films.
  • In a phenomenon which can be likened to the theory of cultural cringe, a considerable number of Canadians reflexively dismiss all Canadian films as inherently inferior to Hollywood studio fare. This is not necessarily connected to reality, as many good films have been made in Canada and many bad ones have been made in Hollywood, but the idea nevertheless presents a significant hurdle to Canadian filmmakers seeking to build an audience for their work.

Case Studies: Porky's and Meatballs

For many years the most successful Canadian film of all time at the Canadian box office was Porky's; it was produced by a Canadian team (though directed by an American and shot in Florida), but only with one of the major American studios backing distribution. (Porky's record was widely reported as broken in 2006 by the bilingual police comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop, but that assessment does not take inflation into account. Porky's still retains its status as the most successful Canadian film internationally,.)

Meatballs makes an excellent case study on common criticisms of the Canadian film industry. Produced and shot entirely in Canada on a budget of CA$1,600,000, it was a tremendous hit, one of the most financially successful Canadian films of all time.

Although it takes place in a summer camp, there is nothing recognizably Canadian about the location or the characters.

The starring role went to American comedian Bill Murray in his earliest featured film role. The chief love interest was played by Canadian Kate Lynch, who won the Genie Award that year for Best Actress. The casting of Americans in the Tax-Shelter Era, as well as today, often caters to an American audience. However, it provided Murray with his breakout role, which quickly led to major roles in Where the Buffalo Roam, Caddyshack, and Stripes.

Almost all of its box office gross was in the United States, where it took in US$43,000,000. It received a much more limited release in Canada. Despite its success, the sequel, Meatballs II, was made in the United States with a largely American cast. It was quickly forgotten, along with its Canadian produced follow-up, Meatballs III. None of the sequels even reached US$6 million in general release.

Current Developments

The Department of Canadian Heritage gave Telefilm Canada more funds in 2001 to help develop the Canadian film industry, with the goal of having Canadian feature films obtain 5% of the domestic box office by 2005. Telefilm divided this between English films then capturing 4% of the market and French films at 12%. At first, the new initiative did not seem to be making much progress: at the end of 2003, English films represented only 1% of the domestic box office, while French films made up 20%. The overall goal of the Canada Feature Film Fund now is to have Canadian feature films capture 5% of the domestic box office by 2006, one year behind schedule.

According to Telefilm Canada, 'From Script to Screen', the two year old feature film policy created to improve the success rate of Canadian films, is seeing results. Before the initiative, the market share for Canadian films was 1.4% and is now 3.6%. Furthermore, the French-language cinema accounts for 20% of the market.

In recent years, there has been a cultural resurgence in Canada's aforementioned documentary stream. Films exploring Canada's identity and role on the world stage have become popular. Due to a political and social split between their American counterparts, Canadian independent documentaries have begun garnering a cult status. Current examples are Mark Achbar's award winning and top grossing Canadian feature documentary The Corporation, and Albert Nerenberg's underground hit Escape to Canada. These films not only nurture homegrown talent, inspiring local industry but also creating a unique voice for Canada itself.

Notable films

Cinema of
Canada

List of Canadian films

For all the industry's challenges, quite a few Canadian films have succeeded in making a cultural impact. Some of the most famous or important Canadian films include:

Directors

Canadian film tends to be more director-driven than star-driven, and have much more in common with the European auteur model of filmmaking than with the Hollywood star system. The most famous Canadian film directors are very often the real star power of their films, more so than the actors they cast.

Some Canadian film directors include:

See also Category:Canadian film directors.

Producers

Writers

See also

Further reading

  • Jim Leach (ed.), Candid eyes : essays on Canadian documentaries, University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • Karen Mazurkewich, Cartoon Capers: The History of Canadian Animators. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 1999.
  • George Melnyk, One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema, University of Toronto Press 2004.

External links


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