Film production is starting to buzz for some Canadian producers, with the impending warm weather. But for those hoping to make films in 2001 it is becoming increasingly complicated to secure public financing. Since 1999 federal funder Telefilm Canada's regulations have required producers to supply projected audience ratings and rate recoupment figures when applying for funding. Meanwhile, the Canadian Television Fund - which TV and film producers have come to rely on - was oversubscribed in the last year, leaving some producers short on their budgets.
Telefilm has also changed its regulations to deny publicly traded companies access to some development and production programmes and to channel more funding into small and medium-sized production companies. It's a policy that will affect companies like the beleaguered and publicly traded Cinar Corp, which has been accused of illegally receiving tax credits for attributing Canadian authorship to US-penned scripts.
But the new Telefilm regulations are a welcome change for critics of the country's funding system, one that some believe doesn't go far enough. Canadian filmmakers got a short-lived infusion of hope last year when Canada's federal heritage ministry recommended a new $101m (c$150m) fund for Canadian film production. However, the government did not commit any new funds to the industry in its annual budget as expected, instead promising to "work in the coming year to support feature films and to simplify the administration of tax credits."
Meanwhile, private financing continues to grow. One trend that is gathering momentum is for investor funds, with insurance companies or pension funds investing in a production or distribution company, which in turn provides advances for Canadian projects. Another form of funding, Trade Acceptance Drafts, gives filmmakers immediate payment by paying a percentage fee to financiers. Furthermore, private companies such as cable companies Cogeco and Rogers Communications have set up funding schemes for Canadian productions, while several broadcasters have stepped up their support of the film business with licensing fees.
Regionally, Canada has its own provincial financing, tax credit regimes and unique production landscape. In Ontario, where provincial policies emphasise private sector funding, local film production has slowed in the past year, with 17 projects produced with total budgets of $24.7m in 1999 compared to 21 projects with $39.5m spent in 1998. In Montreal, where direct spending on film and TV production hit $488m in 1999, producers can benefit from a new Quebec fund called Fidec, formed by provincial funder Sodec and nine Quebec companies in 1999. The $30.6m fund invests in local film and television projects or those with a connection to Quebec, with gap financing, rights acquisition and production financing.
Canada's East Coast has benefited recently from new tax credits and local Telefilm support for up-and-coming directors. The region is gaining a reputation for its own unique brand of quirky films with wide appeal and currently has several in the works. Violet, produced by Dark Flowers Productions, is a romantic comedy starring comedian Mary Walsh as a woman who, convinced she is about to die, quits her job, takes to her bed and plunges into her lifelong obsession with all things Italian. Distributed by Alliance Atlantis, Violet is funded by Telefilm, provincial funding groups and broadcasters.
Also, East Coast-based Cellar Door Productions has teamed with Emotion Films for Wild Mustard, which will be distributed by the newly formed Montreal distributor-producer Seville Pictures. Set in the 1950s, Wild Mustard, written by David Weale, focuses on the painfully volatile relationship between a father and son after another son dies. The film, directed and produced by Thom Fitzgerald, will have a Canadian cast. Distributor Seville is also providing a substantial portion of the film's $2.7m budget. Although Wild Mustard has a small amount of government funding, it's an example of the increasing number of Canadian films that must rely on private backing to get made.