The future of the Harold Greenberg Fund — which provides vital development financing for Oscar contenders such as Monsieur Lazhar and In Darkness or hockey hit Goon — is unknown in the wake of Bell’s proposed C$3.38-billion acquisition of Quebec-based giant Astral Media.
“It’s too early to talk about the specifics,” Marie-Eve Francoeur, Bell Associate Director, Media Relations, told Screen about the future of the Harold Greenberg Fund (HGF).
With the addition of Astral, Bell Media will become a $3 billion national media leader with annual EBITDA of more than $850 million. Yet it is unclear if the approximate $3.5 million HGF money will continue to be invested annually in independent features, including $2.3 million in English-language ones and $1.2 million in French-language features.
“It’s business as usual until the transaction takes place,” Astral spokesperson Alain Bergeron told Screen. “I think that might be early fall [autumn],” he said, offering a ballpark time frame of when regulatory approvals may be sought from the federal Competition Bureau and the telecommunications watch dog, the CRTC (currently without a chief), as well as the TSX.
“When the transaction is concluded, it will be up to the buyer to decide what they want to do with the Harold Greenberg Fund,” Bergeron said. Asked to clarify if the Fund would still exist, he said: “The honest to God answer is ‘I don’t know’ and that’s true for a lot of things right now.”
The HGF is celebrating its 25th year this fiscal (the French side is celebrating its 15th) and a total of $79 million has been invested to date in landmark Canadian features such as Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, Deepa Mehta’s Water or Richard Lewis’ Barney’s Version, all of which also garnered Oscar nods on the world stage and sold well in the international marketplace.
John Galway [pictured], HGF President English Language Program, told Screen that although the total annual investment in English features is minimal, that the timing of the investment is often invaluable to creators.
“Our involvement in development is when there’s very little money available so filmmakers, writers, directors and creators can hone their scripts before bringing them to market,” Galway explained, yet offering no comment on the HGF future.
Galway said a seven-member industry board chooses which films get backed and that: “It’s smart passionate people from the industry that decide.”
HGF is a private financier that often works in tandem with federal financier Telefilm Canada. HGF also works with “other international agencies at the development stage sometimes,” added Galway.
Astral’s website says HGF has supported 3,600 projects to date. “We are proud to support the vision and the efforts of Canadians who have a story to tell.”
“Le Fond invested in films like [Oscar nominees] Incendies or Monsieur Lazhar from conception to production,” Odile Methot, president and managing director French-language Program Le Fonds Harold Greenberg, told Screen.
Methot added that: “Sometimes filmmakers come uniquely here — not to Telefilm Canada or [Quebec funder] SODEC — just here. They know Le Fonds is always there.”
George Cope, President and CEO of Bell Canada and BCE Inc., mentioned the importance of Astral moving pictures in a statement: “This transaction further accelerates Bell’s strategy to deliver leading content like Astral’s across our world-leading networks to all the broadband screens – TV, smartphone, tablet or computer – that our customers may choose.” It is unclear if “content” includes feature films.
Bell is owned by BCE Inc., the Canadian telephone, cable, satellite and broadcasting conglomerate. It’s acquisition of Astral will include 22 TV services, including movie and specialty channels such as The Movie Network, Super Écran and HBO Canada.
The Bell statement also said the deal will put Astral President & CEO Ian Greenberg on the BCE Board of Directors “at closing,” and that the “$3.38-billion transaction establishes Bell as the leader in French-language media.
“Bringing together two respected and longstanding Montréal brands, Bell’s acquisition of Astral firmly establishes our company as Québec’s media leader,” the statement said. “Bell is gaining a well-seasoned national Astral management team, dramatically expanding our French-language content, and more than leveling the playing field with our largest broadcast media competitor in Québec.”
Bell Media is growing rapidly. April marks one year since it was formed and acquired CTV, Canada’s largest media company (which also owns national newspapers such as The Globe and Mail).
That means Quebec’s multi-platform media king, Quebecor—which produces, broadcasts and promotes its own content on all platforms—suddenly has a big new kid on the block to rival.