Canadian films to be recognized on ‘success’

Telefilm Canada says it has placed too much emphasis on commercial hits and is introducing new guidelines to recognize the cultural and international impact of homegrown fare.

Telefilm Canada says it has placed too much emphasis on commercial hits and is introducing new guidelines to recognize the cultural and international impact of homegrown fare.

The federal agency says its new “success index” will take into account Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and high-profile play at festivals like Cannes and Venice — achievements that are currently not officially recognized or rewarded when it comes to public funding.

Executive director Carolle Brabant announced the measure at Telefilm’s annual public meeting in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

For years, the federal agency has relied solely on domestic box office receipts to provide a snapshot of celluloid success. But that only revealed a small part of Canadian achievements, Brabant told The Canadian Press before the meeting.

“In other industries you don’t just measure your success from the sales that you make in Canada — you’re proud of your activities internationally,” said Brabant, noting the change will offer a more balanced look at a film’s financial and cultural impact.

“We recognize that Canadian box office is very important but we felt it was important to bring other components to the measurement of success.

“When you look at the career of (acclaimed directors) Denis Villeneuve or Philippe Falardeau it started mainly by a film that was picked in a festival . . . so I think it’s important to recognize that.”

She says the new index, which takes effect in April, will account for foreign sales, DVD and VOD deals, festival acclaim and international prizes.

Telefilm is devoted to developing and promoting the Canadian film industry. The index will be used to help determine funding allotments for future film projects.

But Brabant said it does not replace the so-called “five-per-cent objective” — a goal set in 2000 that encouraged Canadian filmmakers to grab at least five per cent of the domestic box office.

Canadian filmmakers have never reached that mark, with Brabant noting that Canadian receipts currently hover a little over three per cent of the market.

Receipts in English Canada are even worse, traditionally accounting for about one per cent while Hollywood blockbusters dominate. Brabant says the new index should help filmmakers achieve a larger slice of the pie, by better promoting their talents and rewarding work that raises Canada’s profile.

Passchendaele producer Niv Fichman says the change is “a major, major step,” noting that in the past Telefilm swung too far to either cultural or commercial imperatives.

He says the current system resulted in bizarre assessments that included a blatant bias applied to two of his 2008 films: the Paul Gross war epic Passchendaele and the Canada-Brazil-Japan co-production Blindness.

“Passchendaele” was Canada’s homegrown box office champ that year, ranking high in Telefilm’s estimation of success, while Blindness fell far below in receipts.

Nevertheless, Blindness made its mark in other ways, says Fichman, by opening the Cannes Film Festival and selling well internationally.

“Blindess sold around the world to pretty well every territory, it recouped its cost, it was one of the most successful films I think in Telefilm history in terms of international sales,” says Fichman.

“One counted for (a lot) in the system . . . and the other one — which was by the world seen as a success — didn’t count for hardly anything at all.”

Fichman says the new index provides a more balanced view of the industry that doesn’t overly rely on box office success or cultural impact.

“We’re never going to be able to make the big tentpole films here in this country because we just don’t have $80- to $150-million to make a movie. It’s just not going to ever happen, so we have to be realistic,” he says.

“If we want to make films within our system that can travel the world and make an impact and be considered for Oscars and for Palmes d’Or then we have to think in a certain way and within our context. What this does is it allows us to think in a way to be competitive around the world and at home, too.”

Brabant, who says the index was one of her first mandates when she took over as head of the agency 18 months ago, predicted the change would produce a more diverse slate of Telefilm productions.

“We’re already financing diversity but we’re always caught into (the debate of): Are we too commercial? Are we too cultural?” says Brabant.

“An index like that will give fair chances to all types of films.”