Loss of CBC doc strands ‘a disaster’

The CBC's cancellation of 'The Lens' and 'Wild Docs' has prompted much reaction from the Canadian documentary community, with the situation being called 'a disaster for independent documentary filmmakers' and 'a tragedy.'
July 22, 2009

CBC’s cancellation of two doc strands, ‘The Lens’ and ‘Wild Docs,’ is ‘a disaster for independent documentary filmmakers’ according to John Christou, the co-chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), who noted on Monday that the end of the two series comes amid uncertain times for non-fiction filmmakers.

‘In the last 12 months, documentary filmmakers have been dealt a succession of blows,’ says Christou, citing the closure of both of the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund and CTV’s doc unit and ‘the cloud of uncertainty’ that surrounds the Canadian Media Fund.

The Ceeb has said it will roll the shows into its newly-expanded ‘The Passionate Eye,’ now set to air seven nights a week on Newsworld. ‘The Lens’ ran for just over three years, focusing on smaller and POV documentaries.

‘We understand that the CBC is under enormous financial pressure at the moment,’ said Christou, ‘but DOC believes that public broadcasters in the 21st century need to increase support for diversity, as opposed to shunning it in favor of an industrial model.’

Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit, the team that comprises British Columbia’s Mountainside Films (Saving Luna) also expressed their dismay over the recent turn of events to realscreen.

‘The cancellation of ‘The Lens’ is a tragedy for indie doc filmmakers in Canada,’ said Chisholm, producer and co-director of Luna. ‘We had pitched Saving Luna internationally, but we weren’t able to produce it until Andrew Johnson commissioned it for ‘The Lens.’ We had a good theatrical run in Canada, and broadcasters around the world are now acquiring Luna. But without Andrew’s support and patience, all this wouldn’t have happened.

‘Without ‘The Lens,’ our options for pitching our next stories are limited,’ she said. ‘We’ve got three new projects in development, and we’re looking south. It’s very sad.’

The Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA) also called the cancellation of ‘The Lens’ ‘a very disturbing signal’ in a statement released earlier this week.

CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay has said that, despite its financial pressures, the network remains committed to documentaries. He says the cancellations will result in layoffs of perhaps two or three people, perhaps by the end of the year, though the details remain foggy.

‘We desperately need windows of genuine reality, produced by independent minds,’ offered Mountainside’s Michael Parfit, Luna‘s writer, editor and co-director. ”The Lens’ gave us that. When we lose shows like ‘The Lens,’ we lose our bearings.

‘Andrew Johnson and ‘The Lens’ offered new Canadian filmmakers hope,’ he said. ‘They will now have to seek that beyond our borders. Without ‘The Lens’ the nation saves a few dollars but loses both talent and promise.’

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.