ⓘ Cinema of Canada


ⓘ Cinema of Canada

The cinema of Canada or Canadian cinema refers to the filmmaking industry in Canada. Canada is home to several film studios centres, primarily located in its three largest metropolitan centres: Toronto, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Industries and communities tend to be regional and niche in nature. Approximately 1.000 Anglophone-Canadian and 600 Francophone-Canadian feature-length films have been produced, or partially produced, by the Canadian film industry since 1911.

Notable filmmakers from English Canada include James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta, Thom Fitzgerald, John Greyson, Clement Virgo, Allan King, Michael McGowan, and Michael Snow. Notable filmmakers from French Canada include Claude Jutra, Gilles Carle, Denys Arcand, Jean Beaudin, Robert Lepage, Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallee, Lea Pool, Xavier Dolan, Philippe Falardeau, and Michel Brault.

The cinema of English-speaking Canada is heavily intertwined with the cinema of the neighbouring United States: though there is a distinctly Canadian cinematic tradition, there are also Canadian films that have no obvious Canadian identity examples include Porkys and Meatballs, Canadian-American co-productions filmed in Canada including My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the Saw series; American films filmed in Canada including the Night at the Museum and Final Destination films, among hundreds of others; and American films with Canadian directors and/or actors. Canadian directors who are best known for their American-produced films include Norman Jewison, Jason Reitman, Paul Haggis, and James Cameron; Cameron, in particular, wrote and directed the second and third highest-grossing films of all time, Avatar and Titanic, respectively.

Canadian actors who achieved success in Hollywood include Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer, Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds, and Seth Rogen among hundreds of others.


1. History

The first films that was shot in Canada were made at Niagara Falls, by Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumiere in June 1896 and Edison Studios in December 1896. James Freer is recognized as the first Canadian filmmaker. A farmer from Manitoba, his documentaries were shown as early as 1897 and were toured across England, under the title Ten Years in Manitoba, in an effort to promote immigration to Manitoba.

The first fiction film, Hiawatha, the Messiah of the Ojibway, was made in 1903 by Joe Rosenthal. The first Canadian feature film, Evangeline, was produced by the Canadian Bioscope Company in 1913 and shot in Nova Scotia.

In 1917, the province of Ontario established the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, "to carry out educational work for farmers, school children, factory workers, and other classes." The Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau followed suit in 1918. The British Columbia Patriotic and Educational Picture Service, which produced and distributed short films about British Columbia in an attempt to counteract "Americanism" in Hollywood films, operated from 1920 to 1923.

The Cinematograph Films Act 1927 established a quota of films that had to be shown in British cinemas that would be shot in Great Britain as well as nations in the British Empire that stimulated Canadian film production. However the Cinematograph Films Act 1938 mollified the British film industry by specifying only films made by and shot in Great Britain would be included in the quota, an act that severely reduced Canadian film production.

In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British film critic and film-maker, to study the state of the governments film production and this led to the National Film Act of 1939 and the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada, an agency of the Canadian government. In part, it was founded to create propaganda in support of the Second World War, and the National Film Act of 1950 gave it the mandate "to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations." In the late 1950s, Quebecois filmmakers at the NFB and the NFB Candid Eye series of films pioneered the documentary processes that became known as "direct cinema" or cinema verite.

Federal government measures as early as 1954, and through the 1960s and 1970s, aimed to foster the development of a feature film industry in Canada; in 1968 the Canadian Film Development Corporation was established later to become Telefilm Canada and an effort to stimulate domestic production through tax shelters peaked in the late 1970s see Meatballs below.


2. Contemporary production and distribution

As in all cinema, the line between broadcast and cinema continues to be blurred in Canada as the means of production and distribution converge.

A typical Canadian film production is made with money from a complex array of government funding and incentives, government mandated funds from broadcasters, broadcasters themselves, and film distributors. International co-productions are increasingly important for Canadian producers. Smaller films are often funded by arts councils at all levels of government and film collectives.

The National Film Board of Canada is internationally renowned for its animation and documentary production. More recently it has been criticized for its increasingly commercial orientation; only one third of its budget is now spent on the production of new films.

Much of Canadas film industry services American producers and films driven by American distribution, and this part of the industry has been nicknamed Hollywood North ".

The major production centres are Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In 2011, Toronto ranked third in North America, behind only Los Angeles and New York City, in total industry production; however, for several years previous, Vancouvers industry outputs exceeded those for Toronto.

Alliance Atlantis acquired by CanWest Global Communications in 2007 is the major Canadian distributor of American and international films and in 2003 it ceased to produce films and almost all television to focus almost exclusively on distribution. Lions Gate Entertainment has also become a major distributor in recent years.

Distribution continues to be a problem for Canadian filmmakers, though an established network of film festivals also provide important marketing and audience exposure for Canadian films. The major festival is the Toronto International Film Festival, considered one of the most important events in North American film, showcasing Hollywood films, cinema from around the world, and Canadian film. The smaller Vancouver International Film Festival features films from around the world, and festivals in Montreal, Sudbury Cinefest, and Halifax Atlantic Film Festival - among other cities - are also important opportunities for Canadian filmmakers to gain exposure among film audiences. Very often, however, a Canadian films largest opportunity to achieve a significant audience comes from negotiating television carriage rights with a broadcaster such as CBC Television, Crave or Showcase.


3. Problems in the Canadian film industry

Of all Canadian cultural industries, English-Canadian cinema has the hardest time escaping the shadow of its American counterpart. Between the marketing budgets of mainstream films, and the largely US-controlled film distribution networks, it has been nearly impossible for most distinctively Canadian films to break through to a wide audience.

Although Canadian films have often received critical praise, and the National Film Board has won more Academy Awards than almost any other institution for both their animation and documentary work, in many Canadian cities moviegoers do not even have the option of seeing such films, as they have poor distribution and are not shown at any theatres. One This Hour Has 22 Minutes sketch parodied an Atom Egoyan-like director whose films had won numerous international awards, but had never actually been released or exhibited.

Almost all Canadian films fail to make back their production costs at the box office. For example, Men With Brooms made CA$1.000.000 in its general domestic release, which by Canadian standards is fairly high. However, it was made on a budget of over CA$7.000.000. French-Canadian films, on the other hand, are often more successful - as with French-language television, the language difference makes Quebec audiences much more receptive to Canadian-produced films. In most years, the top-grossing Canadian film is a French-language film from Quebec. See also Cinema of Quebec. By comparison, Australian films, made in a country with a smaller population than Canadas, more frequently make their money back from the domestic market. Many do comparatively better; the best known example is Mad Max, made with the then unknown Mel Gibson, and with a budget of A$350.000, and which made A$5.6 million in its domestic release alone.

Although many Canadians have made their names in Hollywood, they have often started their careers in Los Angeles, despite Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal being thriving filmmaking centres in their own right. Some actors or directors who have started their early careers in Canada include: David Cronenberg, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Ivan Reitman, Derek Harvie, Seth Rogen, Eugene Levy, Tom Green, Scott Mosier, and Paul Haggis. However, despite these successes, several actors have favoured moving to Los Angeles to further pursue their careers.

Canadas difficulties in the film industry are often difficult to explain. The following explanations have been proposed for why Canadian films and television have often failed to establish an audience in Canada or internationally:

  • When there are major Canadian productions, the lead roles often go to American or British actors. For example, in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, both the role of Duddy and his father went to American-born actors the then unknown Richard Dreyfuss and the established character actor Jack Warden respectively. Joseph Wiseman, who played Duddys uncle, was born in Montreal, but had not lived or worked in Canada in over forty years. Although this phenomenon is not as common today as it was in the 1970s, Canadian films do still sometimes cast famous foreign actors: Michael Caine starred in the 2003 film The Statement, Helena Bonham Carter played the lead role in 1996s Margarets Museum and Olivia Newton-John had a starring role in Score: A Hockey Musical.
  • Unlike radio and television, which both have strict Canadian content regulations, there is no protection for Canadian content in movie theatres. The distribution networks for Canadian movie theatres are largely controlled by the American studio system, and Canada is in fact the only non-U.S. country that is considered part of the domestic market by Hollywood studios. As a result, the marketing budgets and screening opportunities for Canadian films are limited. In many cities outside of Canadas largest metropolitan markets, the local movie theatres almost never book a Canadian film, and even in many of the major markets Canadian films are usually only available in repertory theatres or on the film festival circuit. Once again, the exception is Quebec, which has many French-Canadian produced films running on multiple screens all over the province alongside both French-produced films and dubbed or subtitled American films.
  • Canadas film industry competes directly with that of the United States. Production costs between the two countries are similar they are lower in Australia meaning that Canadian films often need a budget equal to that of an American film of similar quality. Canadian film studios rarely, if ever, have the budgets to make films that can directly compete with the most popular Hollywood fare. Instead, the vast majority of Canadian films are character-driven dramas or quirky comedies of the type that often appeal to critics and art house film audiences more than to mass audiences.
  • While British, Australian and American filmmakers embrace their cultural heritage in film, Canadian films often have no discernible connection to Canada. It often comes as a surprise to many people that movies like Porkys, Children of a Lesser God and The Art of War were partially produced in Canada, as they are indistinguishable from films made entirely in the United States.
  • In a phenomenon which can be likened to the theory of cultural cringe, a considerable number of Canadians reflexively dismiss all Canadian films as inherently inferior to Hollywood studio fare. This is not necessarily connected to reality, as many critically acclaimed films have been made in Canada, but the idea nevertheless presents a significant hurdle to Canadian filmmakers seeking to build an audience for their work.
  • During the 1970s, Canadas tax policy encouraged making films merely to obtain a significant tax credit. As such, many films were produced merely for tax purposes, and quality became unimportant. For example, producers of Canadian films were allowed to take a fee out of the production costs, something that is not allowed in the United States, where producers may only take a fee once the film earns back its production costs the exact situation that drove the plot line in The Producers. This rule, in particular, led to a large rush of Canadian-made B-movies in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Films labelled as American films could often be better described as collaborations between Canada and the US. In addition, films which are sometimes designated as "American" productions often involve a higher-percentage of Canadian participation but the "American" designation is favoured for tax purposes. Also, unlike other countries who tend to have citizens with discernible accents, the American media too rarely highlights or identifies actors, actresses, directors or producers as Canadian in origin, leaving the false perception that few Canadians work in the industry.


3.1. Problems in the Canadian film industry Case studies: Porkys and Meatballs

For many years the most successful Canadian film of all time at the Canadian box office was Porkys ; it was produced by a Canadian team, but only with one of the major American studios backing distribution.

Meatballs makes an excellent case study on common criticisms of the Canadian film industry. Produced and shot entirely in Canada on a budget of CA$1.600.000, it was a tremendous hit, one of the most financially successful Canadian films of all time. As with Children of a Lesser God, although it takes place in a summer camp, there is nothing recognizably Canadian about the location or the characters, except for a Montreal Canadiens sweater. The starring role went to American comedian Bill Murray in his earliest featured film role. The chief love interest was played by Canadian Kate Lynch, who won the Genie Award that year for Best Actress. The casting of Americans in the "Tax-Shelter Era", as well as today, often caters to an American audience. However, it provided Murray with his breakout role. Almost all of its box office gross was in the United States, where it took in US$43.000.000. It received a much more limited release in Canada.

In 2010, Resident Evil: Afterlife grossed more than $280 million at the box office internationally and nearly $7 million domestic, making it the most successful production in Canadian film history.


3.2. Problems in the Canadian film industry Current developments

The Department of Canadian Heritage gave Telefilm Canada more funds in 2001 to help develop the Canadian film industry, with the goal of having Canadian feature films obtain five per cent of the domestic box office by 2005. Telefilm divided this between English films then capturing four per cent of the market and French films at 12 per cent. At first, the new initiative did not seem to be making much progress: at the end of 2003, English films represented only one per cent of the domestic box office, while French films made up 20 per cent. The overall goal of the Canada Feature Film Fund now is to have Canadian feature films capture five per cent of the domestic box office by 2006, one year behind schedule. It is now 2014 and they have not met their goal.

According to Telefilm Canada, From Script to Screen, the two-year-old feature film policy created to improve the success rate of Canadian films, is seeing results. Before the initiative, the market share for Canadian films was 1.4 per cent and is now 3.6 per cent. Furthermore, the French-language cinema accounts for 20 per cent of the market.

In recent years, there has been a cultural resurgence in Canadas aforementioned documentary stream. Films exploring Canadas identity and role on the world stage have become popular. Due to a political and social split between their American counterparts, Canadian independent documentaries have begun garnering a cult status. Current examples are Mark Achbars award-winning and top grossing Canadian feature documentary The Corporation, and Albert Nerenbergs underground hit Escape to Canada. These films not only nurture homegrown talent, inspiring local industry but also creating a unique voice for Canada itself.

In 2015 two Canadian co-productions, partly funded by Telefilm Canada, were nominated for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards: Room and Brooklyn.


4. Notable films

For all the industrys challenges, quite a few Canadian films have succeeded in making a cultural impact. Some of the most famous or important Canadian films include:

See Also:

  • Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction
  • Genie Award for Best Motion Picture
  • Canadian Film Award


5. Directors

Canadian film tends to be more director-driven than star-driven, and have much more in common with the European auteur model of filmmaking than with the Hollywood star system. The most famous Canadian film directors are very often the real star power of their films, more so than the actors they cast. Notable Canadian film directors include:

Notable Canadian expatriate directors who are or have worked primarily in Hollywood include:

  • Mary Harron
  • Silvio Narizzano
  • Roger Spottiswoode
  • Jason Reitman
  • Daniel Petrie
  • Ivan Reitman
  • Mack Sennett
  • Ted Kotcheff
  • Edward Dmytryk
  • James Cameron
  • Paul Haggis
  • Allan Dwan
  • Sidney J. Furie
  • Norman Jewison
  • Bob Clark
  • Shawn Levy
  • Arthur Hiller
  • Mark Robson

See also Category:Canadian film directors.