CanCon. One little, mashed up word has likely never caused so much strife in an arts community. In music, Canadian content laws are often cited as the reason that Canadian indie bands have been successful, the reason they have been unsuccessful, the reason Nickleback gets to exist. And while it is contentious, it’s hard to deny that Canadian bands like Arcade Fire, Metric and yes, even Nickleback, might have had a harder time finding success had it not been for laws in place requiring more home grown music.
So then, my question is— where are the Canadian content laws for films?
If you think the music market is difficult, be happy that you aren’t in the film one. Even the smallest indie film requires more up front funds then a band ever will need. There are the basic costs of making a film, which for a 90 minute feature is realistically somewhere between $15,000 to $30,000.
Past that, there’s the time and money involved in getting the film into festivals with the hope of eventually catching the eye of a distributor. Point being, a filmmaker can’t just pack up their van and tour the film around the country (unless you’re Kevin Smith or Francis Ford Coppola).
Imagine this; what if every theatre in Canada were required to dedicate one screen to Canadian content? Of course, exceptions would be made for rep cinemas— perhaps a percentage model would be better in that case (plus independent cinemas are the ones more likely to be showing Canadian content in the first place). The theatres would then be forced to begin distributing content from films made by Canadian filmmakers.
It would give a chance for indie directors like Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), Peter Stebbings (Defendor), Don McKellar (Last Night), and so many more to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys of cinema.
Canada has recognized that to support our music industry, it needs a boost to stay competitive with the deluge of music coming from out southern neighbours, not to forget the UK and continental Europe.
Why not recognize the same of film and implement more programs to build a homegrown film industry?
In France, the birthplace of cinema, filmmaking continues to thrive thanks in small part to government support that requires cable distributors to subsidize film production. Other countries have enacted similar legislation to ensure that their filmmakers have a voice.
If Canadian films are ever going to be seen— either around the corner or at cinemas across the world— they need some support to get there. It falls on us, the viewer, to demand that our politicians make actual steps to support the arts, even if it’s a zombie film.