How To Save Canadian Film and TV (Still)

Thanks for Will Dixon for pointing to this 1995 article by the late John Harkness, where he suggests three things that might help the English-Canadian movie industry (or “industry” as it’s called in the piece, and the use of scare quotes is understandable). The suggestions are to place less emphasis on film schools, film festivals, and government funding, and most of the piece reads as relevantly now as it did then. Particularly the concluding section, which talks about how the funding of Canadian film is approached from the wrong end: we help movies get made, but we don’t help them actually find a place for people to pay to see them.

Some of these things are applicable to television as well; we have more ways to get shows made than actually get them shown. I’m not convinced that government funding is a net negative — there has been plenty of wonderful film and TV that got made with government subsidies. (Even more if you count tax breaks.) What we still don’t have is a positive incentive for English-Canadian networks to make, promote and schedule shows effectively. Having to make something to keep your license rarely produces the best results. Look at the decline in the quality of broadcast TV kids’ shows in the late ’90s, after the FCC mandated a certain amount of “educational” programming as part of the license requirements.

What we would like English-Canadian TV networks to do is what cable networks did in the States: create original programming, improve the quality of that programming over time through trial and error, and learn to schedule those shows in such a way as to call attention to them — all because they felt it was worth their while, in a business sense, to have something more than reruns (the cable equivalent of the U.S. simulcast). It seems to me that it should be worth our while to make films and TV shows and put them in front of a wide audience, if only because of the financial rewards of a hit, but it’s pretty clear that much content is only aired and distributed out of a sense of duty. A sense of duty does not produce the most sparkling entertainment.

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