By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 0 Comments
Veteran Canadian film mogul Robert Lantos, producer of movies ranging from Black Robe to Barney’s Version, is the most prominent voice behind Starlight, a proposed TV channel that would be solely devoted to Canadian cinema. Lantos is one of Starlight’s three principal shareholders, but the company’s roster of partners is a virtual pantheon of Canadian filmmakers—including David Cronenberg, Denis Arcand, Denis Villeneuve, Atom Egoyan, Deepa Mehta, Patricia Rozema and Paul Gross. In April, the CRTC will consider Starlight’s application for “mandatory carriage,” which would require carriers including Rogers, Bell and Shaw to give it a spot on the basic tier of cable or satellite service.
Recently on this website, Maclean’s blogger Jesse Brown interviewed George Burger, a partner in VMedia, a Toronto startup offering unbundled TV channels over the Internet. Burger launched a volley of arguments against the Starlight proposal that Lantos has asked to refute, claiming that they are based on erroneous data.
Maclean’s writer Brian D. Johnson interviewed Lantos by phone. [Note: VMedia has filed an intervention with the CRTC against the Starlight proposal, and so has Rogers Communications, which owns Maclean’s.]
Q: What did you find so upsetting about Burger’s comments?
A: First you should know that George Burger was an employee of mine at Alliance, approximately from 1995 to 1998, before I sold the company. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
It’s been a spectacular few days for Quebec writer-director Kim Nguyen. On Thursday his film Rebelle (War Witch) received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, just one of five titles plucked from a year of world cinema. And back home today, Rebelle tops the list of films honoured by the newly created Canadian Screen Awards, with a total of 12 nominations. Shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his modest but affecting drama about a child soldier—portrayed by Rachel Mwanza, a girl he discovered in the street—trumped much larger Canadian productions such as Midnight’s Children, Goon and Cosmopolis.
On its tail with 10 nominations is Laurence Anyways, the story of a teacher’s transsexual odyssey by Quebec auteur Xavier Dolan. Quebec features dominate the awards with four of the six best picture nominations, the two exceptions being Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children and Michael McGowan’s Still Mine. Mehta’s adaptation of the Salman Rushdie novel, led the non-Quebec field with eight nominations. Like Rebelle and Laurence Anyways, it also scored nominations for director and screenplay.
Still Mine and Nicole Robert’s l’Affaire Dumont were tied with seven nominations; both have double lead acting nods. Michael Dowse’s hockey comedy, Goon, has six nominations, including best director.
The Academy’s choices differ sharply from those of the Toronto Film Critics Associaton, which honored Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell with its $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award for 2012. The Academy has nominated Polley’s movie in the documentary feature category. Goon, one of the TFCA’s two Rogers runners-up, didn’t figure among the Academy’s six best picture nominees; and the TFCA’s other runner-up, Denis Côté’s experimental doc Bestiaire, received no nominations from the Academy.
Heading the list of TV nominees are Flashpoint, with 11 nominations, Less Than Kind with 10, and Michael with eight. Among the nation’s news programs, CBC’s The National topped the list with six nominations.
Re-engineered by the Academy’s new CEO, former TIFF director Helga Stephenson, the Canadian Screen Awards have merged cinema’s Genie Awards with TV’s Geminis. The winners of the film and TV nominees will be announced at a two-hour inaugural gala hosted my Martin Short and broadcast live Sunday March 3, 2013 at 8 p.m. (8:30 N.T) on CBC.
Replacing the Genie and Gemini trophies is a new statuette, a spike-shaped figure with a pair of enveloping cape-like arms. The form, says Stephenson, “symbolizes two screens with the public at the core of it all. The new Canadian Screen Awards statue celebrates Canadian talent and Canadian productions, now destined for multiple screens.”
Amalgamating Canada’s film and TV awards makes sense—certainly on the film side. The Genies have been limping along for many years, and just like English Canadian cinema, they’ve had a hard time finding an audience. Film is supposed to carry more prestige than TV, but that’s worthless if a Genie falls in the forest and no one hears. Film and TV are increasingly interlocked. And hitched to the industrial power of the broadcast biz, the film awards may gain more traction. With some synergy, hopefully, Canada’s film and TV glitterati can create an entertaining prime-time awards show we can proud of. And they couldn’t have a better energizer bunny than the virtuosic Martin Short, who was dazzling in his recent turn as host of SNL.
The anomaly, of course, is that the film awards include Quebec while the TV awards do not. But Quebec television is its own industry, with its own star system. Canadian film is a smaller world than Canadian TV—it sounds counter-intuitive, but the big screen is smaller than the small screen. Yet cinema is, at least theoretically, the more universal medium. Besides, if Canadian cinema can’t claim the likes of Villeneuve, Arcand, Falardeau and Nguyen among our auteurs, we would be pretty impoverished.
The TV nominees are too voluminous to list, but is the full slate films nominated for the Canadian Screen Awards:
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 5:27 AM - 89 Comments
It would not be easy for a Conservative culture minister of Alberta to get a fair shake from the media and his arts-community clientele at the best of times. And this is not, needless to say, the best of times. I’m not going to defend, per se, Lindsay Blackett’s off-the-cuff Wednesday comment at the Banff Television Festival:
I sit here as a government representative for film and television in the province of Alberta and I look at what we produce and if we’re honest with ourselves, why do I produce so much shit? Why do I fund so much crap? Why aren’t broadcasters picking up more Canadian content? It’s because Canadian content isn’t what it should be.
Blackett admits he doesn’t watch much Canadian TV, and judging from the peripheral comments he made in his own defence, it sounds as though he may be unaware that there has been a renaissance in quality and production values. Canada, for example, can now claim to have been the home of several indigenous, watchable situation comedies, which is something we couldn’t say in 1990. Mastery of such an intricate, nuanced format seems to me a rough indicator of artistic progress, in much the same way that having an aerospace industry signals a country’s overall engineering ability.
But Blackett wasn’t talking about Canadian arts generally. He was speaking as somebody who has managerial control of a particular government funding envelope. If you want to pick a fight with him, it seems to me you had better be prepared to demonstrate knowledge of two obvious things. One is the full context of his remark—for which the interested reader had to turn to Sun Media:
After using a four-letter word to describe the quality of some Canadian-made films and TV shows, Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett said more has to be done to make them better.
And that starts with him.
“I’ll take responsibility here in Alberta,” he said. “We don’t help enough quality scripts get written so they can have quality pitches to go and pitch for a production.”
During a discussion on our country’s TV industry at the Banff World Television Festival, some panellists questioned the quality of Canadian films and TV shows, causing Blackett—sitting in the audience—to wonder aloud, “Why do I fund this s—?”
“It’s a couple of things,” he said. “Our broadcasters, I don’t think, give enough money collectively to Canadian productions versus U.S. productions.”
To change that, Blackett said the provincial government will present new guidelines next week “which will show we’re giving new money and incentive to tell our Alberta stories.”
“And incentive to spend more money on scriptwriting and incentive to have more money spent on mentoring the new people in the industry who come out of school but still need to have the requisite skills on the ground to actually learn their job,” he said.
The money will come from the Alberta Media Fund, said Blackett.
“We’re talking about $880,000 to start with roughly and overall the fund is just under $20 million,” he said.
(Diane Wild, a witness to the scene, offers further observations at her weblog.)
No doubt there’s a very boring argument to be had over how much Alberta is doing overall for film and television, where government support (if any) ought to go, and what form it ought to take. But the attention to scriptwriting displayed here is new, and not obviously irrational. In the past, much of the discussion surrounding the film industry in Alberta has revolved around saving technical jobs by creating a friendly tax environment for Hollywood and other foreign productions. This only promotes “Alberta culture” insofar as artifacts like Unforgiven and Open Range are “Alberta culture”, and with the technical apparatus of filmmaking suddenly subject to Moore’s Law-like downward pricing pressure, one could argue that an ounce of funding for the imaginative side of filmmaking is worth a ton of tax breaks.
The other knowledge that critics ought to be prepared to display is some familiarity with the material Blackett’s department actually funds. I figure you can’t say it’s not crap unless you’ve at least poked it with a stick. Can the indignant Paul Gross, who received $5.5 million from the Alberta taxpayer for Passchendaele, claim intimate familiarity with In a World Created by a Drunken God or Caution: May Contain Nuts or The Last Rites of Ransom Pride? If not, then why is he shooting off his mouth? It would surely be much more sensible for Gross and for like-minded critics to admit that most culture funding inevitably pays for crap—that the arts world is, in fact, a colossal pyramid of crap, inherently necessary to provide the nurturing and elevating environment from which a few items of permanent value might spring.
But that is something the culturati can never admit. Kirstine Stewart, the general manager of CBC’s English television operations, reacted in the Globe to Blackett’s comments by saying “Nobody can ever question the quality of what we do here in Canada, creatively or otherwise.” Surely this is a much more revealing and intriguing comment than Blackett’s. Does she mean that questioning the quality of Canadian television and film is literally impossible? Or just that criticism is inherently objectionable, a malum in se? And at the risk of appearing to take sides, I must ask: which attitude ultimately seems more healthy and likely to encourage improvement—Blackett’s, or Stewart’s?