November 05, 2006

The Co-production Treaty And How It Has Worked For Canadians

(Toronto) I've been getting a surprizing amount of positive email, regarding a generally "negative" blog. Even I get kind of depressed reading what I wrote sometimes, but it's soon replaced with anger, seeing all those millions that have been funneled into a few key individual's pockets with this odd form of "cultural laundering", at the expense of the positive things which could come of an institution like Telefilm. Telefilm seems on the brink to become viable for English Canadians, thanks to some new leadership -- except that we continue to see horrible set-backs like the TIDELAND disaster. They really, really need to not only embrace new directions and filmmakers, but they also need to abandon the failed filmmakers who have cost so many millions of dollars and made English Canadian film a bad joke with the public, while also taking a hard look at how policies they had employed have not worked, and how they might fix them. I had some email regarding my article on TIDELAND, and received this email from someone who I will call G.W.. It opened up a little investigation for me, this Sunday morning, which led to a typically anger-producing conclusion regarding the state of co-productions:

In one of your essays, you state "Telefilm exists to fund Canadian stories and culture, right? That’s their mandate. Telefilm exists to assist Canadian filmmakers to tell Canadian stories, Canadian writers, Canadian directors. What in hell is going on here? Why did Telefilm fund Tideland?"
The answer is simple. Canada has co-production treaties with many countries, including the UK (Tideland is a Canada-UK co-production). In exchange for getting foreign funding for some Canadian films, Telefilm will fund foreign productions.

Well, of course that is the concept involved behind their co-pro treaties, I’m well aware of that, and how that was implemented to film TIDELAND. It was more of a rhetorical question which, hopefully, would open up a desire for a little closer examination and inquiry by readers as to how exactly that approach is paying off in obtaining the goal of Telefilm’s mandate. In other words, are we succeeding in promoting Canadian culture by paying for much of the budgets of other countries films with the Canadian public’s money? Are we scoring more investment from them for our films, which should be telling Canadian stories by Canadian filmmakers (ie. Canadian culture)?
It’s a complex question, but it’s not that hard to get a general idea by looking at some simple stats and reflecting on the films created which were promoting Canadian culture, and how successful they were with Canadian audiences (the undeniable, inescapable judge of what Canadian films are accepted as Canadian culture, and alternatively what Canadian culture rejects and disowns).
I’ve limited my selection of stats only to UK-Canada official co-productions over the past 3 years:
TIDELAND (British director, American author)
55% Canadian ($7-million Telefilm Investment)
45% UK
PEARL STREET BRIDGE A.K.A CHAOS (American Director, Writer)
59% Canadian (no recorded Telefilm investment)
41% UK
RIVER KING (British director, American author)
48% Canadian ($2.2-million Telefilm Investment)
52% UK
WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (Canadian Director, American author (based on))
73% Canadian ($15.5-million Telefilm investment)
27% UK
WITHIN (American, British, Other)
23% Canadian (no recorded Telefilm investment)
36% UK
41% Other
BUTTERFLY ON A WHEEL (British director, British writer)
45% Canadian (no recorded Telefilm investment)
55% UK
THE FLOOD (British director, Canadian writer with unknown other)
24% Canadian (no recorded Telefilm investment)
37% South African
39% UK
NIAGARA MOTEL (Canadian director, Canadian writers)
75% Canadian ($6.8-million Telefilm Investment)
25% UK
ALMOST HEAVEN (Canadian director, Canadian writer)
59% Canadian (72k Telefilm investment)
41% UK
FUNNY FARM (Irish director, writing credits to be determined)
23% Canadian
77% UK
So, of the films made, 4 of the 10 had significant Canadian filmmaker involvement as director or writer. Of those, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES was the most expensive disaster in Canadian film history and told a fictional American story, created originally by an American. While THE FLOOD is an English story taking place in London, and ALMOST HEAVEN is a story set in Scotland! The only actual Canadian story, which is told by Canadian filmmakers, is NIAGARA MOTEL. That’s one out of ten success stories for Canadian culture produced using the co-production concept. Unfortunately it was a complete bomb.
So, the question still stands: What in hell is going on here? Why did Telefilm fund TIDELAND?
I actually think that smartly promoted and carefully chosen international co-productions is a pretty good path to take simply because features are so expensive to make. However, it is painfully obvious looking at just the past three years worth of Telefilm’s Official Co-Productions with just the UK, that Telefilm’s mandate for creating Canadian culture is being very ill-served by the way it has been handled. To say the least.
And that Atom Egoyan and Robert Lantos got $15.5-million of the $32-million put out by Telefilm to play the co-production game to make WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (50% of the government money over the past three years!!!) to tell an American story from an American writer, on which Canadians lost their tax-payer shirts, is extremely infuriating. Oh, I guess that’s why Telefilm blew over $7-million for the TIDELAND disaster: so Lantos and Egoyan could throw away over $15-million of Telefilm money on WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. Now it makes sense.
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