With its first-class infrastructure, attractive tax credits and state backers, Canada continues to live up to its reputation as a world-class film hub.

As the northern neighbour of the world’s biggest and noisiest film industry, it would be easy for Canada to be overshadowed. Instead, it continues to ply its world-class trade while remaining a vibrant hub with yet untapped potential.

The territory’s film business is still dwarfed by its TV counterpart but it thrives, boasting first-rate infrastructure and churning out global superstars and content that can compete with the best at box office and prestige festivals.

Bringing further cheer is the stable production base supported by federal and provincial tax credits covering labour, equipment purchase and rental, effects, computer animation and Canadian content. These are complemented by a pair of active crown corporations. Telefilm Canada is a vital investor in home-grown fare, while National Film Board of Canada (NFB) exists as a producorial boundary pusher and is regarded as a world leader in transmedia.

‘We want to create engaging works that others cannot do because the risks are too great or it’s too controversial’

Tom Perlmutter, National Film Board of Canada

“The picture has never been better for the film industry in Canada,” says Martin Katz, chair of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television and founder of Prospero Pictures.

“We are very proud of our new Canadian Screen Awards that the Academy inaugurated last year. For the third year in a row, a Canadian film has been nominated for the foreign-language Oscar category and our films are winning awards in Berlin and Cannes, which projects a sense of the creative community in Canada.

“There is pride in the talent who stay in Canada or come back to make pictures here. So films such as Maps To The Stars [Katz produces for David Cronenberg], [Atom Egoyan’s] Queen Of The Night and [Denis Villeneuve’s] Enemy are representative of that kind of home-grown creative strength.”

David Gross of No Trace Camping, the company behind Michael Dowse’s Goon and his latest feature The F Word, which has its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), adds: “Canada has gotten a lot better since the independent market got more difficult in 2008.

“We are very much like the US but we have a lot more soft money. As an indie it’s easier to be based here. We have stable tax credits that the banks will cashflow. We have A-list crews and we have cities that can double as any city in the US. For a small country, we have a sizeable amount of homegrown talent.”

Growing infrastructure

Toronto-based Don Carmody, who is in post on Paul WS Anderson’s epic Toronto-shot Pompeii and produced the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises, has shot all over the world but mostly in Canada on treaty co-productions.

He says infrastructure has “clearly grown” over the years and notes tax credits in Toronto and Montreal were enhanced three to four years ago to cover all spend. Meanwhile, the softening of the strong Canadian dollar has helped on US shoots.

Vancouver-based White Noise producer Shawn Williamson points out the advantages of Canada’s deep crew base and British Columbia’s shared time zone with Los Angeles. “They shot 90% of The A-Team here,” he says. “I did The Company You Keep, which was set from the east coast to the west coast of the US but shot all in Vancouver.”

Studio Bron Animation sits on a large site outside Vancouver. “It makes sense shooting there,” says Bron managing director Aaron Gilbert. “We have a very mature tax-credit system in British Columbia. Some of the US states don’t have such attractive incentives. In Vancouver there’s a tremendous, deep, talented labour force.”

‘There is pride in the talent who stay in Canada or come back to make pictures’

Martin Katz, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television

On the other side of the country, Pinewood Toronto Studios houses a 45,900 sq ft megastage - the only one of its kind in Canada - and a pivotal moment for the studio came when it landed Sony’s Total Recall shoot. But the business plan very much involves Canadian shoots, says vice-president of international sales Eoin Egan. “We work with their rates because they cannot pay US studio rates.”

Every Canadian production wants to keep costs as low as possible, so qualifying for local backing is of the utmost importance. The NFB, run by government film commissioner and chairman Tom Perlmutter, is a “producer with money” that deploys a relatively small annual budget of $58m (c$60m). “We want to create engaging works that others cannot do because the risks are too great or it’s too controversial,” says Perlmutter.

On a far bigger scale there is Telefilm Canada, the country’s leading investor in local content. “Our mandate is to develop and promote the Canadian audiovisual industry in Canada and abroad,” says executive director Carolle Brabant. “We are present in all the value chain.”

The body administers two funds totalling $435m (c$450m): its own $97m (c$100m) Canada Feature Fund and a $339m (c$350m) allocation from the privately held Canada Media Fund. A new goal is to explore ties with Latin America.

The distribution debate

Telefilm’s mandate relates rather obliquely to the biggest talking point facing the industry today, namely the rise of powerhouse eOne following its $218m (c$225m) acquisition of Alliance in January 2013.

While there have been suggestions the corporate takeover has resulted in a monopoly that is bad for business, others insist it creates opportunities for a rival force to enter the fray.

At time of writing Serendipity Point head Robert Lantos, former Maple Pictures co-president Laurie May and former Alliance CEO Victor Loewy were being spoken of as possible candidates to launch a new company. And David Hudakoc and Michael Baker have just launched new arthouse distributor levelFILM.

Industry players say privately that eOne chairman Patrice Theroux and his team welcome more competition because it would remove the onus on them to almost single-handedly prop up the larger independent productions. It is now up to the existing distributors to assess whether or not they want to step up.

“We are looking for more opportunities so we will increase our volume if justified,” says Javi Hernandez, executive vice-president of Canadian distribution company VVS, whose 2013 theatrical releases include Olympus Has Fallen and Texas Chainsaw.

Hernandez believes VVS has the ability to handle broadly commercial fare, while Hussain Amarshi, who heads Mongrel Media, says his sweetspot is “quality films that straddle arthouse and commercial” such as - he hopes - forthcoming Coen brothers release Inside Llewyn Davis.

‘The Company You Keep was set from the east coast to the west coast of the US but shot all in Vancouver’

Shawn Williamson, producer

Meanwhile, Pascale Hébert of Remstar, which holds Canadian distribution rights to TIFF title Dallas Buyers Club, says the plan is to stay boutique.

D Films aims to increase its volume of sophisticated, star-driven commercial films such as The Paperboy from around six-eight titles in 2012 to 15-20 this year. “eOne is a tremendous company but we think there’s an opportunity for us to grow,” says head of acquisitions Michael Robson. “One company cannot do everything so we’re pretty excited to step up.”

The scramble for rights demonstrates the hunger for content across all platforms. On the digital side Netflix has become entrenched since it entered the market four years ago around the time Blockbuster disappeared.

The streaming service is affecting the way films are released and has deep ramifications for the TV landscape. “Canadian requirements for TV are very strict, but anything coming through the internet is not subject to regulations,” says Pierre Even of Montreal-based production company Item 7. “Now Netflix is broadcasting original series. For many people, House Of Cards was a red flag.”

The $3.3m (c$3.4bn) acquisition of broadcaster Astral by BCE, the media conglomerate parent company of Bell Media, was approved by regulators in late July and created a huge player in TV on condition that Bell invests heavily in Canadian TV and radio programming.

Home-grown talent

Returning to the theatrical arena, the confidence that ensues from an established generation of Canadian film-makers that includes the likes of David Cronenberg and Denys Arcand has inspired younger talents to emerge such as Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Valleé, Xavier Dolan, Sarah Polley, Michael Dowse and Michael McGowan.

The breadth of Canadian talent has been evident at the world’s festivals for years and will be on full display in Toronto. Similarly, actors such as Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds and Rachel McAdams can take their pick of the hottest scripts.

“There’s a great pool of actors that stay in Canada,” says producer Simone Urdl of The Film Farm, which is in post on Egoyan’s Ontario-shot Queen Of The Night starring Reynolds. “There are some fantastic Canadian actors in the US we all wish we could work with more, but you cannot begrudge anybody doing what they do.”