Local filmmakers decry federal censors

Canadian cinema often drowns in the sludge flowing north from Hollywood’s studios. And creating film or television in Canada that isn’t…

Canadian cinema often drowns in the sludge flowing north from Hollywood’s studios.

And creating film or television in Canada that isn’t inspired by Anne of Green Gables is difficult enough.

Yukon filmmakers say proposed federal legislation that strengthens government oversight on film projects — censorship, as some call it — will make it even more difficult to create original Canadian cinema.

Bill C-10, a 560-page tax bill, includes a provision that will allow the Heritage Canada to deny tax credits — crucial to most Canadian projects — to films it deems “contrary to public policy.”

But one person’s cinematic masterpiece is another’s smutty trash.

Already passed in the House of Commons, the tax amendment is before the Senate.

The bill could create a chill effect in the film industry and stifle creativity, say filmmakers.

Canadian filmmakers have to distinguish themselves from American content, and that often means taking a lot of cinematic risks, said Andrew Connors, local filmmaker and director of Haeckel Hill Pictures Inc.

“This is going to cut into what Canadians do best, which is making challenging film and television outside of blockbuster and mainstream content,” he said.

“You can only survive as an industry by creating outside of that.”

Would Guy Maddin’s film Brand Upon the Brain!, which recently screened at the Available Light film festival, meet the government’s approval with its psychosexuality, incestuous overtones and cannibalism?

Now, perhaps, a bureaucrat will decide.

Daniel Janke, a Yukon filmmaker now based in Montreal, questions the motive behind the possible policy change.

“I am not aware of any perceived threat, or of any compelling argument for it,” he said in an e-mail interview.

“One has to wonder what new guidelines they will be introducing. Given this veil of mystery, it’s all slightly ‘Big Brother.’”

Telefilm Canada doled out $158 million to Canadian productions last year.

The Yukon’s film and sound commissioner doesn’t expect the bill to have much of an impact on Yukon film projects.

The commission provides a rebate to producers based on how much they spend in the territory. The rebate is provided at the end of a production.

The commission contributed $783,800 in the 2004-05 year to people working in film and sound, and $693,400 in the 2005-06 year.

How much violence or nudity or bad language in a film does not factor into the decision to support a film production, said commissioner Barbara Dunlop.

“Rather than evaluate content, in order to qualify for the Yukon film and sound incentives we require a production have a distribution agreement or broadcast licence,” said Dunlop.

“Our mandate is to support and develop the Yukon film industry and we make our decision to support a film based on the economic value a production will bring to the territory.”

To have government deciding what is art and what is obscene is censorship, said Connors.

“Censorship is an omnipresent issue for moving picture artists,” he said.

If there is a chill effect, Dunlop doesn’t want to predict how that could affect the Yukon film industry.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on decisions made by individual producers,” said Dunlop.

“I can only speak to what the commission does. We work in co-operation with local film makers and industry associations to develop our funding parameters.”

The federal tax breaks are “back-end” funding, which means the credits are not used to fund a production but are awarded after filming is completed.

That actually could cause more problems than if the credits were given before filming, said Connors.

 “It’s more insidious if you go ahead and make the film and budget for it — usually producers will eat that amount and count on the credit if they get investment from a broadcast distributor and Telefilm,” he said.

“If there’s a body that’s going to take that away, it takes away the incentive to create more challenging film and television. It creates more risk for producers.”

There aren’t many filmmakers working in the budget bracket, said Connors.

“You have to be working with at least a $200,000 budget to make the tax credit work for you,” he said.

That the government is adding another layer of bureaucracy to a stringent and narrow process already thick with red tape is unfortunate, said Connors.

“There’s another body that will make its own decision after Telefilm made its decision, and that doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Contact Jeremy Warren at: jeremyw@yukon-news.com