ED, March-April 2006

Message from the Executive Director (Film Print Volume 26 Issue 2, March-April 2006)

The recent federal election has sent a ripple through the cultural community with man fearing that new Conservative government will respond to cultural issues with the same intransigent reaction it displayed during the campaign with rights to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. While I, like many, have reservations about the Conservative agenda, I look forward to a fresh perspective on assessing, one, how cultural revenue is distributed through the Department of Canadian Heritage to institutions like Telefilm, the National Film Board and Canada Council and two, how these organizations support independent filmmakers and artists throughout Canada.

LIFT is part of a vibrant artist-run community that is indirectly publicly funded by the three levels of government: municipally through the media arts programs of the Toronto Arts Council, provincially by the Ontario Arts Council and federally by the Canada Council.

Unfortunately, the media arts sector is at the bottom of the cultural barrel and receives the least amount of dollars out of al the different cultural sectors funded through the arts councils. The Ontario and Toronto Arts councils go so far as to combine the media and visual arts program so that their grossly inadequate funding isn’t obvious in comparison to the assistance given to other cultural sectors like the performing arts. Canada Council does offer more opportunities to assist media arts organizations, but the financial support represents a tiny fraction of their overall budget.

As a result of our current public (under)funding structure, media arts centres across Canada are known for their remarkable ability to stretch their funding to provide a range of services and programs and, unfortunately, for paying their staff pathetically little in the form of wages and salaries. In fat, almost any entry-level cultural worker at the royal Ontario Museum or at the National Gallery in Ottawa earns more per year than any executive director of any artist-run media arts organization in Canada. Consequently, our community often loses quality staff to larger, more mediocre arts organizations because of poor salaries and lack of benefits.

The irony is that LIFT, like so many other film and video production centres across the country, is mandated to support Canadian independent filmmakers. You would think institutions like the National Film Board and Telefilm would help support Canadian production centres; centres that not only provide access to mid-career and established filmmakers, but also guide many emerging and aspiring filmmakers through the system to more industry-based organizations like the Canadian Film Centre and the National Screen Institute. Instead, neither the NFB nor Telfilm provides a penny of financial support to LIFT’s operating budget. Moreover, they don’t even have annual grants/programs to assist artist-run centres despite the fact that so many production centres now offer the industry standard in film (Super 16 and 35mm) and video (HIgh Definition) production equipment.

Why are Telefilm and the NFB not adequately supporting media artists in Canada that are served thorough artist-run centres? wouldn’t it make sense – especially in English Canada – to provide greater support to mid-career filmmakers, considering the relatively small pool of talent that the NFB and Telefilm draw from?

Let me give you an example. Annually, Telefilm spends millions of dollars on training in the film and video sector. However, none of the artist-run centre that provide training and have industry standard in film and video equipment are eligible for funding despite the literally thousands of Canadians who take advantage of affordable workshops and courses offered at these centres. Wouldn’t it make sense for Telefilm to invest in artist-run production centres in order to increase the number of affordable all-inclusive production courses, which then could significantly boost the number of short films made in Canada? In a few short years, there would be literally thousands of Canadians producing work; thousands of new ideas from mid-career filmmakers for feature projects that Telefilm and the NFB could draw from for their feature film programs.

Instead, Telefilm has awarded millions of dollars to organizations like the Canadian Film Centre where only a couple dozen students graduate each year. What a terrible pity. And people (hopefully Minister of Canadian heritage Bev Oda too) wonder why English Canada can’t even reach that coveted 5% goal for Canadian feature films in the commercial market.

Roberto Ariganello