DOC Canada: Financing system for Canuck docs “falls short”

The decline of Canadian broadcast licences for docs has hit filmmakers hard and alternative funding has yet to bridge the gap, according to a report from the Documentary Organization of Canada.
May 5, 2014

The traditional financing model in Canada for documentaries does not meet the business needs of filmmakers and alternative methods of fundraising have yet to fill the gap, according to a report from the Documentary Organization of Canada.

The report, entitled Growing the Pie: Alternative Financing and Canadian Documentary, was presented by the Documentary Organization of Canada at the Doc Summit 2014 session at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto on Friday (May 2). The report looks at alternative financing models for Canadian documentary filmmakers in light of traditional funding shortfalls.

“We definitely found there is no single bullet [solution],” said Tracey Friesen, who researched and wrote the report, while presenting at the Summit.

In the report, the Documentary Organization of Canada argues traditional funding options for documentaries in Canada are tied exclusively to traditional broadcasters or distributors.

With funding mechanisms tied to broadcaster greenlights, and greenlights in decline, the industry is facing a critical period of transition.

Documentary licence fees from private English-language broadcasters fell 37% between 2008/09 to 2010/11, a dip which “has some documentary producers scrambling to keep their businesses afloat,” the report reads.

While the report acknowledges that crowdfunding is a popular alternative financing option for filmmakers, an average Kickstarter campaign raises only about $10,000 to $20,000 for feature-length projects, the report notes.

“It’s not a replacement for financing – it’s a fantastic thing to fill a gap,” Friesen said while presenting the report.

The report also looked at alternative financing from foundations, private equity and corporate branding. While foundations have been a consistent source of funding for American documentary filmmakers, similar organizations in Canada have yet to support media projects in the same way, the report says.

Private equity financing is being explored by some documentary producers in Canada. However, such funding can prevent filmmakers from accessing tax credits and result in expensive accounting and legal fees.

While corporate branding remains a viable financing source for documentary filmmakers, the report notes that some broadcasters or potential financiers may decide to not back a project because they do not want to be affiliated with a particular brand.

Going forward, the report calls for the discussion of public/private partnerships to access new funds, designing new investment incentives and reviewing administrative processes related to documentary financing. The report also calls for finding alternatives to the broadcast licence trigger to access to additional funding.

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