Friday, October 31, 2008

The Canadian Feature Film Solution? (Part 2)

Part two of three as we explore John Harkness' article. In his second 'modest proposal', he explores film festivals. My thoughts are at the end.

Three Modest Proposals for the Canadian Film "Industry"
By John Harkness, from Take One No. 7, Winter 1995

2. Stop Relying on Film Festivals

The idea has grown that the best way to launch one’s film is to get it properly positioned in a major Canadian film festival. At least two or three times a year, some poor neglected filmmaker complains that the selection committee at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Perspective Canada program has some personal or profound lack of taste that has led them to ignore said filmmaker’s magnum opus. They’ve done you a big favour.

It is actually a terrible idea to launch your film in English Canada at a film festival, for the following reasons:

Film festivals have evolved into a weird, self-contained exhibition circuit. It is almost possible for a filmmaker to spend a year or so trucking around the world, being stroked and interviewed at festivals from Cannes to Ouagadougou to Toronto to Sudbury to Vancouver to Delhi, from Tokyo to Telluride, from Park City in January to Havana in December. And what does the filmmaker get for all this, apart from a lot of frequent flyer miles and a certain exhaustion at the sound of his or her own voice and cosmic jet lag?

Not much – some festivals have a certain cachet in their own market – a prize at Cannes will help a film in Europe, though Jesus of Montreal tanked when it opened in Paris immediately after Cannes. But does a film’s presence in the Toronto festival add to its credibility or salability when it comes to getting into a Cineplex in Windsor? I doubt it, frankly. I suspect people outside the film-festival circuit are far less impressed by film festival honours than people inside the film-festival circuit.

But what about all the publicity? Let me show you that one looks from the point of view of someone who does the interviewing. A film gets launched at Cannes – Atom Egoyan’s The Adjuster, say, or David Wellington’s I Love a Man in Uniform. The Canadian press pays appropriate attention, talks about the film, interviews the filmmakers and/or stars, such as they are, and files stories home to a grateful public. For four months, nothing happens, and the film fades from memory because the public has had, afterall, no chance to see the film that they have heard about.

In September, the film gets a gala spot at Toronto, or a good spot in Perspective Canada, and the dog and pony show starts all over again. At this point, the papers do their profiles, the film has its gala, and then finally, a week, two weeks, three months, six months later, the film finally opens, with a small advertising budget and one screen in Toronto’s Carlton Cinemas or the smallest of the Cumberlands, and we in the press are offered the film one more time, at which point we are heartily sick of it. We are not your publicists. The distributors get shocked when we in the press don’t get all wet at the thought of putting together a big spread on a picture that we’ve already covered, sometimes twice. It has become, before opening, an old movie.

The desire to see one’s film play in a film festivals screws up the release schedules big time, with all the independent distributors trying to get their films out in the three weeks following the Toronto festival, at the exact moment when their natural audience is really tired from two weeks of film festivaling.

Finally, here’s something practical to think about. During the festival, people who really want to see the film will see the film – two shows in 300-seat theatre are 600 tickets, and no one penny of it returns to the film or its distributor. Do you help the film by giving away seats?

Makes sense to me. I've done the festival thing. Rejected by Toronto, but excepted in Montreal...and New York. I was so broke after making my production and going to festivals, that I had to borrow $20.00 for the airport fee in order to get back home. Next time out the gate, my plan is to tour with my next project (and hopefully my cast can come along because they have a stake in this as well). A punk-rock/garage band form of touring combined with the Internet and new media. Fold that in with good old fashioned leg-work will help connect with a Canadian public who has not a sniff about they're helping to finance. Nor getting to see it. If I'm going to go broke doing the festival 'fuck-off', why not do it on my own terms?

While festivals maybe a form of marketing, it's becoming prohibitive, political and inbred. Marketing is the key here, and in Harkness' next modest proposal, perhaps the most controversial of all, he discusses why the Canadian government should get out of funding production and get into helping with marketing.

Very interesting. The Rider game's on in an hour. Beer, football, food. Later.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

After All the Broken Bones, The Riders Will be Playing in B.C.

Here are my predictions for this weekend. I have shamefully neglected them, due to life and work circumstances. Here they are:

7:30 PM Thursday, October 30, 2008

One team has everything to play for, the other, will be flogged in the off-season, both in terms of players and management. Michael Bishop will be a very pissed-off and motivated QB on Thursday night. He did not feel as though he should have been traded and will try to prove the Argonauts were dead wrong on that decision. A 12-6 season would be a major accomplishment. Frankly, I thought the Riders would go 9 and 9 this year after all the changes. Saskatchewan 29 Toronto 15

Final: Saskatchewan 45. Toronto 38. How does one explain this game. Besides the soul-sucking commentators and Skydome, I can only say that both defenses looked friggin' awful. Each team seemed to be deciding on who was more incompetent. I'm glad the Riders won, but

9:00 PM Friday, October 31, 2008

This is an important game for both teams because neither wants to enter the playoffs with two consecutive losses; Especially Edmonton. The 55-9 loss in Regina was similar to the 40-4 loss in Montreal back in Week 13. The Eskimos have allowed 512 points this year, and in my books is straddled with a lousy coach...second only to Doug Berry. The key to stopping or slowing down Montreal is not to concentrate on the quarterback, AnthonyCalvillo, but to play the receivers tough and force Calvillo to make difficult throws. More important for Edmonton to move into the playoffs with a win, but I doubt they'll get it. All year I've been saying Edmonton is over-rated, and they are. Montreal 36 Edmonton 27

Final: Edmonton 37. Montreal 14. Could I be more wrong on this? Montreal sat 6 starters, including Calvillo. An exhibition game for the most part. I wonder about first place finishers sitting starters? I can't recall in the past five years where that has helped in the East and West Finals.

2:00 PM Saturday, November 01, 2008

At 7 wins and 11 losses it has not been a good year for the Bombers. But if they want to dominate Edmonton the way that Saskatchewan did they need another good game to enhance their confidence. Quinton Porter will be the number one QB come June of 2009. The Ticats will want this one to end as fast as possible. The Bombers are playing with a playoff purpose. Winnipeg 31 Hamilton 18

Final. Winnipeg 44. Hamilton 30. Off season for the Ti-Cats. Send Printers packing and get two better receivers and they're liable to make the playoffs next year. Winnipeg plays Edmonton in the East-Semi Final in the battle of poor coaching.

5:00 PM Saturday, November 01, 2008

It will be interesting to see how Stamps head coach John Hufnagel handles his players as compared to WallyBuono. I think that Buono plays everybody all game long. I think that Hufnagel gets a good half out of his key starters. BC should win this one because Calgary doesn't have any QB close to Henry Burris in ability...and he'll be pulled by half-time The last place that the Lions want to play a semi-final game is in Regina. The home of theRoughriders has the best fans in CFL football and their drunken/fist-fighting energy transfers to the players makes a difference. BC plays hard all game while Calgary plays it safe in the second half. BC 29 Calgary 24.

Again. Wrong about this one. Hufnagel actually got great performances out of his back-ups for the second half. Buck Peirce helped by throwing three stupid interceptions...and he looks hurt. Expect Jarious Jackson to start as BC travels into hostile Rider territory. Who would have thought?

The Riders will be heading to B.C. Place. I hate the idea, but that's what's going to happen. Your welcome and happy betting.

The Canadian Feature Film Solution? (Part 1)

The following is part one of three. The article you are about to read was first published in 1995. I'm reassessing it because it seems just as relevant today, as did thirteen years ago (even though some of the film references are dated). I've put my two-bits in at the end. Why? Because it's my blog. If you want to read the article in it's entirety, go here. Anyway, here is Part One.

Three Modest Proposals for the Canadian Film "Industry"
By John Harkness, from Take One No. 7, Winter 1995

After looking at it for a long time, I’ve decided that Canadian cinema is just fine. We make exceptional films like Jesus of Montreal, Dead Ringers and 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould. We make interesting movies like Masala. We make deadly dull films like The Lotus Eaters and The Burning Season. In the long run, it doesn’t matter much what anyone says about the film industry, which will continue to lumber along, much as it has for the past decade or so.

Instead, I’ve decided to offer a series of proposals that I think would do the film business and the Canadian soul a world of good. They will do doubt be ignored. I prefer to think of myself as being ahead of the time.

1. Close All Film Schools for at Least Five Years

We have more filmmakers than we have projects for them to make, yet our film schools keep churning out little baby directors.

Jean Renoir, Kenji Mizoguchi, David Lean, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, David Cronenberg – none of these people went to film school. More great films have been made by people who never saw the inside of a film school than by people with graduate degrees infilmmaking.

I also have considerable doubts about what they are being taught. A few years ago, a friend of mine was working for the Academy of Canadian Cinema on their director-observer program that took young filmmaking students and put them on the sets of actual, in-production films. During the course of interviewing the applicants, she discovered that an inordinate number of students wanted to be the next Patricia Rozema. The idea that there were dozens of little filmmaking students out there, waiting to unleash their version of White Room on the world steals my sleep.

But what, you ask, about people who really want to make films? How can we deprive them of an educational opportunity? People who really want to make films will make films. If they are truly driven to make films, they will find a way. Personally, I’m with the American writer Flannery O’Connor, who, when asked if he thought that university writing programs stifled writers, said that it didn’t stifle enough of them. The same thing is true of filmmakers.

Broadly speaking, universities have two objectives. The first is to develop an educated human being capable of thought and ready to contribute to the well being of society. The second is to g
give a person the necessary skills to make a living.

Canada’s best and most successful filmmakers tend to make a film every three years or so. Denys Arcnad, one of our most successful serious filmmakers, took four years to get from Jesus of Montreal to Love and Human Remains. Film schools give students all kinds of skills, then turns them loose on a world where they can scrape together bits of money to make films that will never be seen. Before she hit with I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, one could find Patricia Rozema’s name in the credits of one of those kiddie shows (either “The Elephant Show” or “Polka Dot Door”) as third assistant director. I once asked her what the third A.D. did on a show like this, and it turned out that she was basically a kid wrangler. For this you need to go to film school?

When I say film schools, I include the Canadian Film Centre, whose chief contributions to Canadian cinema was its first class, which gutted Canadian cinema of a generation’s worth of superb documentary filmmakers – Janice Cole, Brigitte Berman, Peter Raymont – who have produced damn little since their tour through NormanJewison’s École de Haute Schmooze. The Centre’s most prolific graduate following six years of existence is Gail Harvey, whose two films, The Shower (aptly described by the Toronto Star’s Norm Wilner as “No Exit stage byMolson’s”) and the “erotic thriller” Cold Sweat would be an embarrassment if anyone had seen them.

The American Film Institute program on which the Canadian Film Centre models itself works because there is a large and centralized film industry to absorb its graduates. The Canadian Film Centre has had almost 100 residents since its birth, and there is no industry in Canada capable of absorbing that many filmmakers, producers, writers and artistes.

I went to film school in Regina and Calgary. One was a University, the other a tech school. From a film school perspective, I guess that's balanced. I also did not take out a huge loan, only what I needed and had to work to pay the rest. What am I saying? Skip film school. And like Harkness' article, it's not that they are bad, it's what and who they are churning out. I know I might be pissing on people's dreams here, but if you want to work you need a skill a production can use when starting out.

First ADing paid my bills and allowed me to buy a house. Writing and Directing has not, but I'm making progress in these areas after 12 years. One can even make an argument that film school can never teach you to tell a story. You don't want to learn that from them anyway, or all you'll do is tell stories like everyone else. You learn to tell stories by telling stories. You learn by doing.

Film schools use a model that is Hollywood. They do not teach you how to make a movie when you have no money and no crew. They teach you how to make a big movie. Nothing wrong with thinking big, but get real. You'll make your first film with next to nothing.

It is true that you can make contacts. But that will only get you through the door, but it won't keep you there. You must have something concrete to offer. If I had to do it all over again, I'd take my hard-earned dough and make something of it. Grab a camera and some like-minded folks and make your movie/short/doc or animated film. You don't need permission from anyone or any institution to do that.

Next post will be an exploration of film festivals. Are they of any use and why are there so many of them? Mr. Harkness has some interesting ideas about that as well.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beef and Glory Holes

"The difference between the right word and the almost right the difference between lightning bug and lightning." Mark Twain said that, so let me clarify a few things about my previous entry 'Killjoys and Dog Shit". I was disappointed with the WORDS in the headline, "Gross's Passion No Porky's" in the October 21, 2008 print edition of the Globe and Mail. It seemed mean-spirited by design. Not the sort of stuff I expect nor desire from my choice of national newspaper that claims to be Canada's best...if by the best, we mean Central Canada.

Let's get one thing straight. I'm not blindly endorsing Paul Gross's "Passchendaele". I'm not saying anyone should not criticize a movie because it's Canadian. I'm not saying 'go to a Canadian movie because it's good for you, just like eating your veggies.' I DID state in my previous entry, that if a movie is crap, it's crap. My beef is with the article, it's wording and the pissy attitude at The Globe. By the end of James Adams's article, I was confused. Why? Because "Passchendaele" is not an 80's relic like Porky's? "Passchendaele" is not seeking the same audience as those who vend films for beer-swilling University boys who find sticking their dicks through holes in the shower wall as a source of amusement.

What have we learned from this article? That apples are not oranges? With logic like that, I look forward to The Globe's future article on why Canadian beef is not apple pie, and therefore fails to be worth eating.

If you'd like to see another opinion, go to Jim Henshaw's blogpot.

Now, for the down-side. Money. "Passchendaele" will most certainly have huge problems making it's money back, and most likely will not. Not ever. That makes it a failure, something that should not be rewarded. Unfortunately, we keep rewarding film and television failure in this country. In Mr. Henshaw's blog, he blamesTelefilm for this veil of tears, and I'm inclined to agree.

He has four rules to improve Telefilm. Here they are, with my own two-bits to improve those rules:

Rule One: Anybody who wants to make a movie gets $100,000 from Telefilm. No track records. No rigid application dates. No binders of support material. You got an idea you get 100 grand and one year to make your movie. Telefilm keeps the same budget so when that many hundred grands are gone, the wicket is closed.

You'll need a script and a budget, to show where you are spending the money. No mystery 'juries' assessing a project's merits. If Telefilm wants to behave like a 'studio', then it must make decisions and stop trying to be everything to everyone. Also, if Telefilm continues to back failures, then we have a personnel problem, and people are let to pursue other opportunities. This should not be run like a social safety-net.

Rule Two: You don't make your movie you have to pay the money back and you never get to apply for anything ever again.

Can't improve on that.

Rule Three: You make your movie but it can't get released or doesn't earn its money back, you get to put your name in the hat for a bonus draw of the final hundred grand envelope next year. Hey, it's showbiz, not everything is going to work, but we're also not here just to keep your doors open anymore.

A lottery may not be the best answer, but at least gets rid of the regional bickering and the same faces getting dough to put out another failure.

Rule Four: You make your movie and it makes money. You automatically get $500,000 to make another one. If that one makes money, you get a million the next time around and so on.

Sounds fair. Rewarding success. And that's what it should be about. "Passchendaele" has story problems. It was expensive to make. It's Paul Gross' second kick at the can and there shouldn't be any more if this movie does not make money. But kicking sand at it before it's done it's run, by a newspaper that already had it's chance at a review? That's bullshit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Killjoys and Dog Shit.

" Sometimes it appears to me that Canada, even an intact Canada, is not so much a country as a continental suburb, where Little Leaguers govern ineffectually, desperate for American approval"
- Mordecai Richler

You can debate the above quote, but I would most certainly put the Canadian media in that category, especially this week.
Here is an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail this week. Monday, Oct. 20th to exact.

Gross's passion no Porky's


October 20, 2008

Actor-director Paul Gross's First World War epic Passchendaele failed to notch a breakout hit for Canadian film at the box office this weekend. The movie was the second highest-grossing film in Canada on the weekend, earning an estimated $940,000 from its debut on 202 Canadian screens, according to its distributor Alliance Films. The movie had a budget of approximately $20-million as well as at least a $2-million marketing budget.

Howard Lichtman, the veteran Toronto-based box-office analyst, said Passchendaele's performance wasn't "an unmitigated success ... but in perspective it did just fine," since it's aimed at an older audience and is being released in the fall, traditionally a time for either "art films" or "adult-oriented fare."

"Is it a commercial blockbuster like a Quantum ofSolace [the new James Bond film opening Nov. 14]? It's not - but I don't think it was intended to be," Lichtman noted. "If you take the just-under million dollars it generated and divide that by the average ticket price, there's still an awful lot of people that went to see a Canadian piece of history. Which isn't too bad."

"We're thrilled with the box-office," said Carrie Wolfe, Alliance vice-president of marketing, publicity and promotion, yesterday in Toronto. "Canadians across the country have embraced the film," which opened this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Print Edition - Section Front

Passchendaelewas bested for top spot by Max Payne, a new Mark Wahlberg action vehicle shot mostly in Toronto earlier this year. No specific Canadian weekend gross was available yesterday for Payne but Box OfficeMojo estimated its North American receipts were $18-million (U.S.) from a total of 3,376 screens. Using whatLichtman calls "the 10-times factor" - that is, movies in the U.S. tend to have, on average, 10 times the box-office of Canadian releases - then it's likely Max Payne opened on 250-300 screens in Canada and earned $1.5-$1.8-million here.

It appears Passchendaele isn't en route to surpass Porky's (1982) or 2006's Bon Cop, Bad Cop as a Canadian box-office champion. (Porky's earned more than $11-million in theatrical receipts, while Bon Cop's take was more than $11.5-million.)

Nor is it likely to best Men with Brooms which Gross also directed, co-wrote and starred in. That comedy, budgeted at $7.5-million, played on 207 screens on its opening weekend in the winter of 2002 and earned $1.125-million. Its eventual total take from its theatrical release was $3.9-million.

Lichtman, however, said a film's performance needs to be evaluated in terms of its release date and its competition. He suggested the more apt comparison for Passchendaele should be with W., Oliver Stone's biopic of the current U.S. president. W grossed $10.6-million on slightly more than 2,000 screens. "It's right in the range [of the 10-times factor]," said Lichtman, meaning W.'s weekend box-office in Canada probably totalled about $1-million from approximately 210 screens - very close to that of Passchendaele.
Now if this isn't a supremely asshole thing to do. A Canadian movie breaks box office records in it's OPENING WEEKEND, and the headline is negative and goes on to compare it to American product. And it's compared to a teen sex-comedy when it's aiming at a different audience. If this isn't Little League thinking by the entertainment desk at the Globe and Mail, I don't what is. Instead of celebrating our culture, the donkey who writes this article decides to put a negative spin on it, after all...negative sells to the public. Right? 
The headline could have read: 'Passchendaele beats W. at the box office! Passchendaele BEATS dog movie at box office! Now let's be clear. I don't like blind patriotism, nor should you like any show because it's Canadian. If it's crap, it's crap. But publishing facts and statistics like box office and giving it a negative spin like a review is bullshit.
Here is another example of Little Leaguers at work, this time in the National Post:
'Between exotic and obscure': The Office comes to Winnipeg (via LA)
Posted: October 25, 2008, 9:42 AM by Brad Frenette

Winnipeg is about to get a star turn on an upcoming episode of The Office when Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) goes on a business trip to the capital of Manitoba.

With budget constraints in mind, the show decided that instead of shooting on location, they would recreate the city in their Los Angeles studio. According to CP, the show's writers chose the 'Peg "because it struck the right balance 'between exotic and obscure.'"

To help make things more authentic, Lori Walder of Destination Winnipeg sent shipments of Winnipeg curiosities to the producers of the show in L.A., including a variety of Old Dutch chips and beer from Winnipeg brewer Fort Garry.

Walder told CP that she doesn't think the city will become the butt of the jokes: "I don't think that's the humour of The Office... It's really about the characters ... I would be very surprised if the joke is on Winnipeg. I think it's more on Michael."

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, however, doesn't think that remaking Winnipeg makes a fair substitute for the real place: "We want the real deal. We're real people. We want reality actors here not virtual actors."

The last U.S. TV show to visit Winnipeg was The Simpsons. The show's plot saw Homer visiting the city in search of cheap prescription drugs.

The Winnipeg episode of The Office is scheduled to air November 13 on Global.
This is a friggin' NEWS STORY?! Denis McGrath does a fine job of displaying his displeasure on his blog Dead Things on a Stick, which you can find in the sidebar. Like him, I find this sad and embarrassing. The Canuckmedia only writes a story when Americans notice us. Meanwhile, there is a wicked, funny series called 'Less Than Kind' that shoots in Winnipeg. It employs Canadian cast and crew. And get's actually set and shot here! Oh yeah, and the film 'My Winnipeg' by Guy Maddin played here for FOUR theatres. That's worth celebrating and covering.

I know what your thinking. Cunningham, why so angry about this? Well, after a year with Bill C-10, arts and culture wars and cutting, I'm feeling a bit savage. Our national media is doing no better than Harper, they are feeding the bears who think Canuck entertainment is not worthwhile.

In a recent poll during the election, 60% of Canadians felt that arts and culture are worth supporting. To me that's not good enough. Those of use who work in the cultural industries have a lot of work to do in educating the public about what we do. And these kind of articles undermine the work.

To make sure Canadians remain Canadian, we rely on rules. We threaten legislation to keep American football out. We enact laws to promote Canadian music and give Canadian magazines (and newspapers) a leg up. We tie film and book publishing funds to Canadian content. We set up massive bureaucracy to ensure that Canada gets its fair share of the television and cable world. We establish foreign ownership controls to keep our communications and arts industries away from outside clutches.

And then, having duly protected ourselves from the rest of the world, we sit back and read British mysteries, rentHollywood movies, watch American TV shows, read New York magazine, listen to rock music from London and country music from Nashville on devices manufactured in Asia. 

Anyway. Back to Passchendeale. It is something to celebrate, no matter what you might think of the movie. Because, if it succeeds, all of us in this threatened industry succeed. Get it? It's like the first snow. It's clean and pretty for the first twenty minutes around dawn, but after that it's churned into filthy mush by garbage trucks and shitting dogs. And journalists, this week, and in my books, were the shitting dogs. Hopefully they rise above low-rent gibberish. There is something to celebrate here!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Phantom of the Paradise

Go on. Ask. Everyone does. Why the hell do you love this movie Cunningham? Well, I'm not alone and I have just discovered that my new city of residence loves it too.

Phantom-mania gripped Winnipeg in 1975. "Why was Phantom of the Paradise such a big hit--only in Winnipeg?

"Why Winnipeg?!"

The short answer is: nobody knows! But something definitely happened in Winnipeg that didn't happen in any other city in North America*: it fell in love with Brian De Palma's 1974 comedy-horror-musical-tragedy Phantom of the Paradise. Interviewed at the time, a booking executive for Phantom's Canadian distributor stated: "It is incredible how well the picture has done here, but it only happened in Winnipeg, nowhere else. In Vancouver, the film lasted only one week; it went a week in Calgary, only a week in Edmonton and then people stopped coming. But in Winnipeg they just never stopped!"

How a movie could become a hit in complete isolation from the rest of civilization is a phenomenon unique in modern entertainment, yet Winnipeggers gave this movie its only "legs"...and kept them standing for four and a half months over the winter and spring of 1975. The city also snapped up the official soundtrack album in record numbers, buying over 20,000 copies (and contributing in large part to its official gold status in Canada), and made a "Beatle" out of songwriter and Phantom star Paul Williams for one magical day that June.

Why Phantom caught on only in Winnipeg is a mystery for the ages, but as far as anyone knows, there was no poisoning of the Shoal Lake water supply with hallucinogenic drugs, nor any other factor to which its singular success here can be attributed. However, if my eyes can be trusted, the median age of those who attendedPhantompalooza events in 2005 and 2006 was around 40, suggesting that most of Phantom's Winnipeg audience was around 10 back in 1975...MUCH younger than the young adult audience 20th-Century Fox had targeted with their misguided marketing efforts. In other words, this was a very specific demographic: old enough to get away from their parents and into a movie with a Mature rating, but not old enough to be jaded by the film'sfaux glam rock when the real thing could be had with almost any concert ticket. In other words, its mix of music and mayhem made it a relatively safe alternative to attending the KISS and Alice Cooper shows that were still the exclusive domain of older siblings.

But the seeds were here all along for something like this to happen. The forties and fifties saw a renaissance in our arts scene, culminating in international renown for the ballet and symphony. In the sixties, Winnipeg response to the British invasion framed rock and roll not as a source of fear, but rather, immense pride over the ground-breaking success of Winnipeg artists like The Guess Who and Neil Young. And thanks to a perfect storm of federal (1967), provincial (1970) and municipal (1974) centenaries, funding flowed like manna from all three levels of government; when the dust settled, Winnipeg had shiny new arts facilities, including a concert hall, museum, art gallery, theatre centre and planetarium. This sudden concentration of artistic endeavours, combined with relative isolation both within the province and on the continent, meant that it was much easier to realize a cultural tipping point in Winnipeg, a vast city-state not that concerned with looking over our shoulder at Toronto, or Vancouver, or Minneapolis when Winnipeg it's own vibrant and eccentric scene to enjoy.

There are clearly three components to Winnipeg's Phantom-mania: 1) the movie itself, 2) the Paul Williams concert of June 1975, and 3) the movie's post-concert resurrection, which made it seem as if it played on local screens for well over a year.

Find those rare, strange copies where you can! Then, grab a popcorn, and take off your toque. Get comfy and relish the wonderful weirdo that is Phantom of the Paradise.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hydro Levesque and a Suicidal Winnipeg

Recently, Friday night to be exact, I went to a screening of 'Hydro-Lévesque' by filmmaker/artist Matthew Rankin

Here's the synopsis:

On the night of René Lévesque's sovereigntist victory in 1976, a deaf-mute Catholic nun is drawn away from the jubilation by a paranormal cry for help from Winnipeg. Leaving her happy nation behind, the compassionate sister ventures forth to discover a crazed and inconsolable Winnipeg, festering on the brink of mass suicide. Weaving the intricate symbolism of Québec cinema into the degraded abstractions of Winnipeg, Hydro-Lévesque is a loving and emotional Québec nationalist film about Winnipeg's self-destructive urge.

It won the* Special Jury Prize, WNDX 2008 *

The sixteen short minutes of this black and white film made me laugh, think and feel more than any show I've witnessed by Canadian film and television makers (with many times the money and resources) recently. Levesque and Trudeau's ghosts appearing in swirling masses of smoke to the protagonist are fevered. If you come across this wonderful piece of work in your town, seek it out.

Matthew Rankin is part of a group called Atelier - National du Manitoba. You can read more here.

It was a wonderful, inspiring introduction to Winnipeg's film making community, and look forward to more.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The New Hitching Post.

" Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?"
- Job 38:2

Who indeed? What kind of irresponsible bastard would do a thing like that? Poor Job must have been thinking about journalists when he uttered those words. They definitely laid some dark and ignorant counsel on him, and he suffered badly because of it...boils, madness, many deaths in the family. Job's affliction could be the only explanation for Gina Mallet's article in the National Post, reproduced here...with my two-bits:

Canada's culture sham

Gina Mallet, National Post Published: Monday, October 06, 2008

I pray that nobody tries to institutionalize Canadian food. Canadian chefs are doing just fine in their own restaurants. Please, please don't call for subsidies for Cancon food.

Oh? Maple Leaf Foods? Maybe I'm wrong, but government Health inspectors stepping in was...well...probably good? Odd analogy, but I guess that's to be expected from a cookbook writer and 'food' critic. But hey! Let's move along here.

Because you'll end up in the same mess that the arts have been in ever since I first came to Toronto. And theCancons are at it again, moaning that Stephen Harper isn't giving them enough money.

We don't want more money, just stop cutting it.

I think he's right.

Why? Because it's a sham.

I don't mean Canada doesn't have fine artists, actors, musicians, writers. Of course it does. But that isn't enough. Canada must have a national cultural presence, a national theatre and opera and ballet and cinema. It isn't enough to enjoy the artists we have, we must have institutions.

I don't like institutions either. I'll admit it, you've got me hooked sweet heart! I'll forgive the back-handed compliment from a failed theatre critic. Oh shit, just did the back-handed thing myself! Sorry. Forgive me.

And institutions are costly political boondoggles, full of hot air and signifying nothing. As well, very often Canadians are shafted by the institutions that taxpayers are supporting.

Oh, Lord above! I agree! Add triple-dipping broadcasters who get subsidies and protection to that list.

Let me give an example about institutional indifference to the Canadian artist.

I'm ready. Sock it to me!

Telefilm is a Crown Corporation, the government's film institution which hands out almost $10-million a year to Canadian produced films.

Recently I caught the 2004 flick Being Julia on late night TV. It was produced by Canadian Robert Lantos, starred American Annette Bening and Brits Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon and was directed by HungarianIstvan Szabo. The film was based on Somerset Maugham's novella Theatre; the script was written by Brit Ronald Harwood; the film was shot at locations in Europe. It was financed by Canada, Britain and Hungary.Telefilm contributed around $7-million to the $18-million budget (and $3-million more for promotion.

Being Julia is so bad that I couldn't even laugh at it. But quite aside from its quality, the film has nothing whatsoever to do with being Canadian -- with the exception of a two-second glimpse of Sheila McCarthy.

Well, it wasn't my cup-o-tea either, but didn't it get Oscar nominations? Small, thing, but let's move on...

Telefilm doesn't want to spend taxpayers' money on real Canadian films which may be glum and unsophisticated; it wants to be a Hollywood player.

Really? Most Canadian films and TV shows are pretty funny? Corner Gas, Trailer Park Boys, FUBAR etc. Minor point.

But when it comes to films like Being Julia, Canadian taxpayers can see through the charade. The movie's box office take was $1-million in Canada and a total of $14-million elsewhere). I bet a low-budget flick about the sound of waves crashing on the Rock could make as much proportionately.

I wish! I'd be applying for a grant right now, but the paperwork out-weighs the weak 'crashing Rock 'concept. Sorry Gina, don't buy that one. Maybe you could apply...your idea anyhow.

Yes Mr. Harper, it's time to pull the plug.

Maybe he will.

When times get weird and madness starts closing in the form of bad, ill-informed journalism, I always turn to the Bible. I was brought up on it out here on the prairies. Some of my earliest memories hark back to hot mornings when I was young and my grandfather used to lash me to the hitching post with strips of rawhide and order the field-help to throw handfuls of sharp gravel at me while he read from the Good Book. He identified very stronglywith Job. And from now on, I'll refer to The National Post to the 'Hitching Post'. They just keep spreading the good word. Maybe Gina can read to me from her cookbook next time she ties me and my rotten, sinful kind to the post.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blood Clots in the Revenue Stream

I have just finished moving to Winnipeg, hemorrhaging money along the Trans-Canada in the forms of a mortgage, moving and other costs associated with lawyers, banks and insurance folks(my three favourite kind of people). I have left a city I have called my home for most of my life. I've had most of my childhood and career in Regina, Saskatchewan. Now that the heavy-lifting and unpacking is finished, it is interesting how the media and politicians are stirring-up a shit-storm of panic. Canadians are sweating bullets over their financial and work futures. I say 'interesting' because thisuncertainty is how I have lived my life for the past 41 years. It most certainly is how I have lived my life in the film and television industry.

So Canada, welcome to my world. Should you panic over something that may or may not happen? That's up to you. Jim Henshaw states it well on his blog, Legion of Decency:

This was a tough week for a lot of people. The financial meltdown on Wall Street turned many Billionaires into mere Millionaires and scores more who thought they had a future (or maybe a house) into folks wondering if they'll ever work again or how much of their stuff can fit in a grocery cart. If you read the papers -- or more correctly, if you BELIEVE what you read in the papers, we'll shortly be unable to afford retirement, shelter, transportation or food. In other words, the entire world will become a Canadian Artist. From a media perspective, it's fortunate the collapse of Capitalism-as-we-know-it came along when it did. After a couple of years of Global Warming scenarios in which we were all drowned by melting ice caps, wiped out by unleashed tropical diseases or felled by methane released from the thawing tundra, we still hadn't panicked en mass. So now they get to cook up a whole new series of Post-Apocalyptic scenarios people wouldn't buy in a Roger Corman movie, but which apparently sell newspapers.

Yep, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming. I suggest you all read the Book of Revelations, if you are end-of-the world inclined. The language is poetic and the imagery is inspiring enough to produce heart attacks.

Me? I love my new home, new city and have a sense of hope. Could it all fall apart tomorrow? Sure. But when was life certain? Ever? My life in the 'arts' has been the polar opposite of safe, but I am proud of it. I would do it all over again without changing a beat, although I have never recommended it to others. That would be irresponsible and wrong, I think, and I am none of those things.

And here is another small ray of hope...

Harper scraps controversial clause in Bill C-10

Tory Leader says government is considering the 'serious concerns that have been expressed by film creators and investors'


With a report from James Bradshaw

October 8, 2008

Canadian artists scored a victory yesterday after Stephen Harper abruptly pulled the plug on a controversial clause in Bill C-10 that would have allowed Ottawa to block tax credits for film and television projects it found morally offensive.

The Conservative Leader's about-face comes as Tory hopes of a majority fade, and support for the party is sagging in the crucial battlegrounds of Quebec and Ontario.

The move appears to be aimed at appeasing voters incensed at the provision in C-10, and at the nearly $45-million in recent cuts to a swath of other arts and culture programs. Reaction yesterday from some of the most influential voices in Canada's cultural sector was swift.

"It's the first arts cut that he's made that's actually good," said director David Cronenberg. "It's obvious he thought he was playing to a major constituency when he was talking about the cultural elites and the rich galas, and all that nonsense. He realized there are a lot of people of every so-called 'class' - working or middle class - who depend on their arts for their livelihood and for their intellectual well-being.
The Globe and Mail

"He tried to play the dumb-it-down game and it didn't work because Canadians are not dumb."

Mr. Cronenberg was referencing comments made by Mr. Harper at a recent campaign stop in Saskatoon, where he said he did not believe that "ordinary working people" were sympathetic to "a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough."

Reached at the Vancouver International Film Festival, director Atom Egoyan said he felt "relief."

"Now we're waiting for other reversals of decisions," he said. "I think our message might be getting across. And that's great news."

The incendiary clause in C-10, as well as the $45-million in other cuts, has galvanized the arts community, sparking rallies and news conferences across the country. Many critics have charged the cuts were ideologically motivated by the Conservative government.

But Mr. Harper and his officials have repeatedly maintained they were simply implementing necessary reviews designed to identify inefficient or ineffective initiatives.

Actor, writer and director Sarah Polley said yesterday: "It's good news that this ridiculous clause has been thrown out, but it's only a start and doesn't negate the harm this government has caused to culture in this country."

The C-10 hoopla first reared its head in February after The Globe and Mail reported there was a little-known provision - at third reading before the Senate banking committee - that could cut off tax benefits for film and TV productions that contain graphic sex, violence or other content that the government finds offensive. It applied only to Canadian TV and film projects, while Hollywood and other foreign productions applying for tax credits would get a free pass.

Yesterday in his platform - called The True North Strong and Free: Stephen Harper's Plan for Canadians - the Tory Leader said that while "these proposals were approved unanimously by the House of Commons, we will take into account the serious concerns that have been expressed by film creators and investors.

"A re-elected Conservative government ... will maintain financial support for arts and culture at or above existing levels, while continuing to improve the effectiveness of allocations wherever possible."

All four opposition parties have pledged to reinstate the $45-million in axed programs.

Now, back to work on my screenplay.