A Healthy Dose of Canadian Content

Christa Dickenson, Executive Director, Telefilm Canada | Catherine Tait, President & CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada | Valerie Creighton, President & CEO, Canada Media Fund

It has been eight weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to retreat into our homes, where the days blur from one to the next to the next. It’s easy to be worn down by the negatives, and there are many.

But there are positives, too. This has been a chance to pause, to re-evaluate our lives, and even to see things we may have taken for granted in a new light.

For us, one of the great salves of this pandemic has been the arts, more specifically the Canadian content that has brought us together virtually when we can’t be together physically. It has stoked our imaginations, helped us learn, and taken our minds off reality for a couple of hours at a time.

Simply put, Canadian content reflects the world outside our doorsteps in a way other content can’t, and right now it’s that world outside our doorsteps that we miss the most.

Forced into isolation, Canadians have watched more TV shows and movies, more information programs, have played more videogames, listened to more podcasts and visited more news websites than ever before. Our broadcast networks have experienced record-breaking audiences, like the more than 12 million Canadians who tuned into Stronger Together, a national salute to front-line workers by Canadian talent from Buffy to Bieber.

Meanwhile, lovers of Canadian cinema have found new favourites, like Jeff Barnaby’s brilliant Blood Quantum, a zombie movie with an Indigenous twist that had to forgo its theatrical release and was released early on digital when theatres shut down. The cast and crew tuned in online, hosting watch parties with viewers. Their story is similar to many filmmakers across the country who have had to adapt when the cinemas closed their doors.

Fans from around the world sought out Canadian content when, in week three of the crisis, the touching finale of Schitt’s Creek provided welcome solace thanks in part to Dan Levy’s vision of kindness and love. Speaking of Levy, he was a guest on the very first episode of Tom Power’s What’re You At, a brand-new talk show that premiered on CBC/CBC Gem in early April direct from the amiable Newfoundlander’s living room and with a focus on community and culture during the pandemic.

Canadians have shown extraordinary creativity in response to unexpected obstacles. The Toronto International Film Festival and Crave teamed up for Stay-at-Home Cinema, a selection of films curated by TIFF, complete with Q&As from filmmakers and special guests. Canadian videogame developer The Coalition (Gears of War) worked with the non-profit Gamers Outreach organization to donate 200 gaming consoles to hospitalized kids locked down in their rooms. And Big Bad Boo Studios made their children’s shows available for free.

These are just a few examples of how we have made lemonade from this dish of lemons.

As the heads of Telefilm Canada, Canada Media Fund and CBC/Radio-Canada — the leading audiovisual organizations, funders and commissioners of original Canadian content — we are painfully aware that many of the artists who made the content we’re enjoying are not working and will not be able to return to work until it’s safe.

The interruption and cancellation of productions globally has struck a brutal blow to the industry. And because our work is, by nature, collaborative, it will be difficult to fully rebound for many, many months.

Like other industries hard hit by COVID-19, ours will need emergency support and initiatives to keep workers safe when things return to normal. We are committed to delivering this assistance, which includes $88.8 million in emergency support via the Canada Media Fund and $27 million by way of Telefilm. These funds are intended to keep our country’s production companies from closing and people from losing their jobs.

Just prior to COVID-19 we were celebrating the success of Canadian series like C’est comme ca que je t’aime (Happily Married) at the Berlin Film Festival, Kim’s Convenience was the most popular foreign show in South Korea, uplifting movies like The Grizzlies, the true story of how lacrosse saved the youth of a remote Arctic town, were reaching international audiences, the digital series Hey Lady!, with the fabulous Jayne Eastwood playing a crotchety, 75-year-old troublemaker, had its world premiere at Sundance, and audiences were discovering Jeanne Leblanc’s Les Nôtres as it opened in the last few days of moviegoing.

We won’t let a virus stop our momentum.

Decades of public policy in support of Canadian content has worked. Today, our industry is a major economic force, creating more than 180,000 jobs and contributing $12.8 billion to the GDP in 2018-19. The stakes here are not just cultural, they are economic. So now is not the time to let our creators and producers down. We have built a vibrant ecosystem for content creation in Canada and it has held us together during these dark days.

Now is not the time to turn the lights off on one of our country's greatest accomplishments, the creation of a homegrown, diverse and internationally recognized film and TV industry. It’s the time to look forward to a day when we can once again say, “Lights, camera, action!” and “Coming soon to a theatre near you.”