Thursday, April 07, 2005

And it feeds by degree on our apathy

Oh dear. The Cancon brigades are out in force again: Armed with colour-coded charts that show an embarrassingly small amount of truly Canadian programming on TV or Canadian feature films in our theatres, Sarah Polley and Don McKellar lambasted the federal government yesterday for doing next to nothing to support or promote Canadian culture. "Unless you live in downtown Toronto, it's incredibly difficult to find a Canadian film on a screen near you," said Polley, one of this country's most prolific actors. "If you live outside Toronto, you have to make a pretty heroic effort to find one." I realize it seems never to cross their minds, but perhaps that's because Canadian productions are almost uniformly terrible? When you subsidize art with political intent, you get subsidized-quality, none-too-subtle results. During a speech before the standing committee on Canadian Heritage held in a Toronto hotel, Polley held up a graphic that showed four cinemas screening Canadian titles in Toronto and only one cinema in the Greater Toronto area. She went on to draw attention to last week's prime-time listings (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.) on CTV and Global. On the former, she named eTalk Daily, W5, Corner Gas and a re-run of Cold Squad, while the latter touted Train 48, Whose Design Is it Anyway? and a re-run of Blue Murder as its distinctly Canadian program offerings. eTalk Daily is a lame imitation of Entertainment Tonight or Star!Television. W5 is less interesting than 20/20 or 60 Minutes, as sensationalist yellow journalism goes. Cold Squad and Blue Murder are competing directly with the Law & Order and CSI franchises in the Generic Cop Drama market. Train 48 is a godawful, amateurish primetime soap; its production values are so low that Polley would do well to refrain from association with it, unless she actually wants people realizing that Telefilm Canada money went into it. The only decent show among them - and it's an excellent, quirky, non-agenda-driven masterpiece I'm glad has been renewed for a third season - is Corner Gas. McKellar and Polley, who both direct and act, expressed disgust at the track record. "It's something we've all known, but to see it spelled out that way in colour is truly incredible," said Polley, referring to the odd blip of red (marking Canadian shows) that were lost in a sea of blue (marking American programming) on the networks' skeds. Again: Canadian television is almost entirely dull, or generic duplication of trite formulas done better by Hollywood and New York. What do you expect? Do you think that audiences are going to demand more Canadian content, when it's this quality? McKellar and Polley were speaking yesterday on behalf of their union, ACTRA Toronto, which represents 13,000 people who work in Canadian film and TV. Their pitch was before the federal committee, currently studying the state of the Canadian feature-film industry. Oh, I see. It's not about principles, of course; it's about protectionism for a single industry, like the bad old days before free trade. (As if there was ever any doubt.) Unions are willing to shamelessly express their own petty demands in the rhetoric of anti-American cultural nationalism; who'd a-thunk it? McKellar said the charts are living proof of a "failed national broadcasting policy . . . that has largely sold out English-language prime-time Canadian television to another country." McKellar, who directed Childstar and Last Night, said for the first time in his 22-year career he's having a hard time recommending that young filmmakers and performers stay in Canada and try to tell our own stories. "It drives me crazy," he told the committee. "We've got to start giving Canadian artists a good reason to stay in this country, despite what these charts are telling them. Canadians with ambition leave, eventually. Accept it. Work with it. Give those artists who will leave for the US a reason not to be ashamed of their lazy, stay-at-home, tariff-demanding brethren. If there's something so remarkably unique about "our own stories," they'll be compelling and interesting for all audiences, not just those domestic ones forced to watch by a frankly creepy federal policy. The following are some of their key recommendations: Force open the shelf space -- both in Canadian homes and on theatre screens -- so Canadians can actually see their own stories. What does "force open" mean? Are we talking more tax credits here, or more thuggish cultural chauvinism in action like that of Quebec's language police, or RCMP raids on those owners of grey-market satellite dishes? How far are you willing to go to give government the final veto on positively delineating what is acceptable for Good Canadians to watch? We need to make a determined and long-term effort to develop screenwriters and make it possible for them to make a living here. Again: tax credits? Or making it more difficult for the ambitious to leave? Cinemas should be required to make some clear, permanent and measurable commitments to increase the proportion of their screens devoted to Canadian film, and to consistently screen Canadian trailers. Why don't we just set up audiences in Ludovico Treatment-esque restraints, strapping them down and forcing their eyes open for the mediocre panoply that is Canadian film? God knows we need more domestic enthusiasm for masterpieces like Intern Academy or Phil the Alien; by whatever means necessary, right? Audiences watching sub-direct-to-video quality dreck (but Canadian sub-direct-to-video quality dreck) at the point of a gun still count as watching, right? Distributors should have to come forward with binding, permanent, measurable commitments to increase and then maintain the aggressive marketing and wide distribution of Canadian films. It's not distributors' fault that what they're given to work with is so awful. How about a reverse onus? Advocates of Canadian content should have to come forward with bind, permanent, and compelling reasons to even justify the existence of Canadian films. They urged the government to get tough on broadcasters and specialty channels, enforcing more stringent Canadian content, spending, and programming-development conditions, as part of renewing their licences. Want to provoke me to ignore Canadian broadcasters and their advertisers even more, and get new Adult Swim, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who entirely via Bittorrent, rather than watching them when they eventually show up on Teletoon, Global, and Space? Then just try forcing further restrictions of this kind. I dare you. They also asked the government to give the CBC the funding it needs to double its dramatic programming, and hold it accountable for the results. "As the Quebec experience demonstrates, television drama is an excellent place to begin to build a star system," said Polley. "People who make their names as performers in prime-time drama on TV can then carry a domestic film." Money given to a crown corporation is, by definition, funding without accountability. Starry-eyed dreams of the CBC as some sort of heroic defender of Canada, rather than the employment agency for Liberal Party hacks it is, don't help your case either. I will watch what I want to watch. No government policy, from the benign to the authoritarian, is going to make me pay good money to see Canadian films, or waste my time on Canadian television, when there's an entire world of more entertaining content available. Call it self-centred, or civil disobedience; either way, I will not be told what to watch by bureaucrats and union goons. It's just too bad those with only basic cable and without broadband don't have the same options.


Blogger The Monger said...

Forget it being a "heroic effort" to find a Canuck flick in a theatre, it's a heroic effort to sit through one.

And if our Kulturmeisters want to watch Canadian film, I suggest they turn on the television set. Anyone else remember Bubbles Galore?

4/07/2005 01:14:00 PM  

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