TORONTO – The pandemic-era challenges of last month’s Oscars struck a chord with Beth Janson, head of the Canadian Screen Awards academy, and not just on a planning level.
“It was so interesting for me to see the Oscars deal with what the Canadian Screen Awards and the Genies before that dealt with for our entire existence, which was so many people haven’t seen the films because theatres were closed and traditional distribution plans were disrupted, festivals weren’t showing films,” says Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.
“We struggle so much with it.”
Indeed, a common refrain each award season is that many viewers are unfamiliar with the Canadian film contenders. In some cases, the projects haven’t been released yet or had limited theatrical runs; or they weren’t marketed heavily or put on a mainstream platform. There are also no quotas for cinemas when it comes to Canadian content, Janson notes.
Several groups are trying to change that.
The Canadian academy and Telefilm Canada recently launched Where to Watch on the academy’s website, a monthly themed list of links to diverse Canadian content. The list also features a collection of 2021 CSA nominees, who are being celebrated this week in livestreamed virtual shows.
The program is more about offering interesting, curated titles that just happen to be homegrown than telling people to watch such content because it’s Canadian, says Janson.
“The more that we become a globalized society and country, the more crucial I think it is to make sure that we nurture our own cultural sector. I don’t want it to be just like France, or I don’t want it to be just like the U.S. I want it to be uniquely Canadian. And that whole thing starts with the content.”
Telefilm’s similar online push, called See it All, argues “the success of the industry relies heavily on where homegrown content can be discovered and made available, both at home and at their local cinemas.”
Telefilm also partnered with the Seek More campaign from the industry advocacy group Made/Nous, which aims to inspire Canadians to look for diverse homegrown content.
Seek More ambassadors Simu Liu, Shamier Anderson and Devery Jacobs are among the actors who appear in a series of videos on the Made/Nous website talking about their careers and offering viewing recommendations.
“Seek More is demanding more from our film industry, from network executives and also from our communities to ensure that the future of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) filmmakers and storytellers isn’t just a fad but it’s something that’s going to continue to thrive,” says Jacobs, who grew up in the Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk Territory in Quebec and stars in this year’s top CSA film nominee, “Blood Quantum.”
Then there’s the I Am Canadian Content campaign by the watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. That project targets politicians in its defence of Canadian journalism and storytelling through information on its website and posters featuring prominent Canadians including “Kim’s Convenience” star Andrew Phung and singers Jann Arden and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Such initiatives build upon the efforts of National Canadian Film Day from non-profit organization Reel Canada, which works with festivals, broadcasters and streamers to screen Canadian programming across the country.
“I think there’s a bit of a panic in the industry about the power of the streamers and their budgets,” Janson says when asked why so many of these campaigns are emerging now.
“And I think that there’s a shift happening in the industry and a lot of people are really worried about the Canadian voice getting lost in that shift.”
That’s especially so for marginalized Canadian voices, says Jacobs. She notes the Black Lives Matter movement has been “a huge wake-up call for a lot of people who hadn’t considered experiences outside of their own.”
A recent study commissioned by Telefilm and carried out by Leger suggested that on average, Canadians watch 18.7 hours of audiovisual content per week. Of that, an average of 4.5 hours is spent watching Canadian/Québec content.
“Only a quarter of Canadians’ viewing time is devoted to content created here,” said the study, which also found “an overwhelming majority of Canadians would like to see more promotion of Canadian content.”
Daniel Levy, co-creator and star of top CSA nominee “Schitt’s Creek,” says the Canadian industry is still growing and needs advocacy programs to compete with bigger, better-funded rivals.
He recalls having to compete with U.S. productions for studio space to shoot his CBC sitcom in Toronto for its entire six-season run.
“When you’re a small industry and you’re trying to attract the eyes of the world, it’s tough when you’re on a shoestring budget,” says Levy. “The more we can get eyes on the industry, the more jobs will be made, the more we can support our own and the larger the industry can become, ultimately.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2021.