A special committee of six board members of the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) will soon make recommendations to address the thorniest issues involved in ensuring ctf-funded docs reflect Canadian culture.
The committee, co-chaired by Toronto-based Breakthrough Films & Television president and producer union reps Ira Levy and Claire Samson, was struck in mid-February after unflattering stories circulated in Canadian media about doc projects being denied funding – ostensibly for failing at least two of the CTF’s essential requirements: reflecting Canadian themes and subjects, and being shot and set in Canada. Although the CTF said the stories were erroneous, they raised burning issues about future funding for Canadian doc-makers.
Vancouver-based producer David Paperny worries about his one-hour Discovery Health special Thirst for Life, which is in post but has the CTF asking questions about its Canadian relevance – and possibly pulling about CDN$50,000 (US$41,000) from the $250,000 (US$207,000) budget. The subject, which explores the health benefits of red wine, is based on U.S. and French research and sources.
Paperny says that for the first time, the ctf has required a contract stipulating content – for instance, using Canadian statistics and experts, even though the acknowledged experts come from Harvard and France. ‘This is something we’ve not seen before,’ says Paperny, calling the situation a ‘dark shadow’ on Canadian documentary filmmakers. ‘The CTF wants to drive the content of the show and we’re not happy about it.’ Thirst for Life is set to air May 29. Paperny delivered a cut to the CTF in mid-March and is waiting to hear whether he’s met the requirements of the content contract.
In an interview with Canadian media mag Playback, Levy admitted the existing guidelines are problematic for doc-makers. ‘The rules haven’t changed,’ he says. ‘The application of those rules has been more stringent.’ Levy would not disclose the recommended changes because they had not been presented to the ctf board. The proposed amendments, though, reflect how docs have evolved and are aimed at helping the guidelines ‘catch up with the times,’ he says. Explains CTF president and CEO Sandra Macdonald: ‘Last fall, the CTF board and staff identified a growing gap between the ‘classic’ documentary, which the CTF supports, and the lighter factual programming that broadcasters increasingly prefer to air.’ In the most recent year, says Macdonald, 23 projects raised concerns related to eligibility, only five of those because of Canadian-content criteria, but those were approved.
Macdonald says her hands are tied by the cultural requirements of the Department of Canadian Heritage, which will again invest $100 million (US$83 million) in 2005/06 for the second part of a two-year installment.
Levy’s working group will also recommend amending the definition of docs eligible for funding. If approved, the modifications would be implemented for the current 2005/06 funding year.
(A version of this story appeared in Playback.)