After many weeks of preparation of this post and some postponing, I'm now launching this discussion started by Fletch on Canada Day. The biggest problem that the industry faces is not whether or not Canada can produce smart films. In fact, over the years, this country has witnessed the production of great works of art like Lost and Delirious, Tout est parfait, Flower and Garnet and Spider just to name a few. Do you really want to know what's the biggest problem this country's movie industry faces?
The first problem is that too many Canadians don't watch our films when they're in theatres according to the latest report from the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (PDF). In fact, just have a look at these two graphics that can respectively be found at p. 73 and 74 of the report:
As you can see in both graphics, the Canadian box office has unfortunately always been dominated by American films. This is not really a surprise since the USA produce more films than Canada each year. Besides, most American films shown in our movie theatres are made by Hollywood although you might find a few independent films (provided that you live in a major Canadian city).
Secondly, why is the box-office share of Canadian films higher in the French-language market - which is mostly concentrated in the province of Quebec - than in the English-language market? Some people might point out the linguistic barrier that exists between Quebeckers and the rest of North America. Therefore, what actually helps these films in French (which are mostly produced in Quebec) is the fact that they almost benefit from a general release in Quebec (except for independent films).* Moreover, if you know Canadian cinema really well, you'll know that most "mainstream" (i.e. Hollywood wannabes) films are produced in Quebec so...
Thirdly, as for the English-language market, there's a reason why the box-office share has always maintained itself around 1% no matter how much English Canadian filmmakers have gotten a little bit better at marketing thanks to a higher budget and smarter people working in the distribution. This is because most English Canadian films are always victim of a limited release. By "limited release", I mean that they only come out in some cities (the following are some possible scenarios), whereas American films come out wherever there's a movie theatre in Canada (even in a small town):
- Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. All in all, it's a miracle if a film gets a roll out in other Canadian cities starting the next week following its release.
- Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Kanata, Oakville, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Dieppe. Well, this is the kind of release the film Fifty Dead Men Walking is having.
- Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
Obviously, the other problem here is that most movie theatres belong to American interests who don't want to have Canadian films being screened (except for AMC). As for Canadian owners, most of them don't want to screen Canadian films. In fact, they believe that nobody watches Canadian films, since most of them don't make their money back (hence the budget doesn't increase that much). Besides, to make things worse, many Canadians hold this belief (even in Quebec) that Canadian films are inferior to American films. Here's a question to Canadian readers: do you prefer to be proud (and waste your money on it) of an "entertaining" film (that tries to copy Hollywood) or a smart one (even though it has a low budget)?
Seriously, wake up, Canada! Obviously, I know that this issue is not going to be old history any time soon. However, if it can be, only - and only - Canadian viewers can prove that there's a huge demand for our own films. Therefore, we can hope that Canadian films can benefit from a real general release on our own soil. Besides going to the movie theatre, you, as a Canadian, can watch the Genie Awards (the nationwide equivalent of the Oscars), the Jutra Awards (the Oscars of Quebec), go in local film festivals that screen Canadian films, borrow Canadian films at your local library and - above all - use your wallet to encourage a local video store that has Canadian films on its shelves. In short, we have to show an interest for what's going on in this country's cinematic scene, otherwise, our movie theatres will always be at the mercy of the American cinema.
*Small note: Although I live in Montreal, which is Canada's third largest city, I always have to go to downtown (which is at least 30 to 40 minutes from where I live) if I want to see a Canadian film (regardless of the language of production) most of the time. This goes without saying that there's a movie theatre within walking distance from my house.