Thoughts on National Canada Film Day + Canada Screens

April 29, 2015 | By

See the pretty poster?

April 29th is Canada Film Day, and the second year of its incarnation seems much broader and enveloping by founders at Reel Canada, whose mandate is to make available CanCon to schools and other educational and arts venues for use as teaching tools, or pure entertainment.

An offshoot of the organization’s endeavours is Canada Screens, a streaming site showcasing CanCon titles curated by a handful of filmmakers and actors, including producer Robert Lantos and actor / writer / director Paul Gross, two members that appeared in a press conference way back on March 20, 2013 to announce a proposed all-Canadian film channel called Starlight.



See the pretty poster in my video store doc BSV 1172 (screen left) in a cameo, as seen through the lens of a 1986 tube video camera.

The concept was noble – if sci-fi. Horror, golf, and reality channels can exist, why not CanCon? – but a concrete channel devoted to native productions failed to materialize.

I figured its greatest obstacle wasn’t due to a lack of interest / plain cynicism among channel carriers or funding issues, but the fact most Canadian films are owned by one big company, EOne, plus the rights and distribution agreements for other works have kept domestic DVD or Blu-ray release virtually inert.

EOne is huge – they own Alliance, which itself went on a catalogue buying binge years before – and they may simply have too many movies to sift through and decide what may constitute a viable commercial video release.

With the exception of indie labels like Criterion, Flicker Alley, Grindhouse, Scorpion, Synapse, and Twilight Time to name a few, big labels don’t do special editions anymore for small films. Many large labels aren’t interested in assembling interviews, commentaries or featurettes, and the lack of remuneration makes the likelihood of extras impossible, unless it’s the historians and special features producers running their own labels.

You’ll also note that of the cited indie labels, none are Canadian, which also reveals the dilemma of anyone wanting to release a domestic version of a CanCon title: even after you’ve got the rights, produced the extras, and dealt with legal headaches, if you’re product sales are restricted to Canada, the market may be too small to sustain that fledgling physical release, if not a follow-up title.

The other enemy is apathy, which is perhaps an improvement over the smirk that used to accompany discussions on Canadian films and TV series. ‘Crap’ and Canadian tended to be used in one sentence 20 years ago, whereas now there’s an acknowledgment of quality work deserving accolades, but there’s no interest among the powers that be to initialize the hard work and deal with a history of product that’s idling in vaults.

Canada Screens’ site acknowledges that not all films exist in digital states, hence the modest offering that over time it hopes to augment.

The question for me, and probably fans of domestic genre classics and rarities, is whether CS will carry – for rental AND sale – the great small films, the canuxploitation classiques, and the rare. Will catalogue owners be flexible, perhaps offer a time-limited, trial agreement that even makes old transfers available to test the waters of CanCon fans?

That’s sort of how the Warner Archives series began, and when studio Warner Bros. realized there was an interest among select fans to own classic films, they went for better transfers.

Journalist / historian / educator Gerald Pratley wrote encyclopedic books on Canadian films, but I’ve never seen any feature film older that the early 70s. Some of the films cited and reviewed in his books were outright indies that have become apocryphal mentions in blogs with teasing clips (Now That April’s Here), whereas others were CBC and NFB co-productions no one’s seen in years.

Why not start researching and sourcing prints for digital archiving, which in turns creates a digital master for streaming and purchase? Collectors don’t want perfect 2K transfers – they just want to see the films, and own pieces of Canadian film history.

Digitizing older masters doesn’t take an elaborate set-up nor a massive room of gear. It’s not rocket science. I’ve reviewed DVDs that feature old transfers that are at best watchable, but at least the labels have made marginalized works available for the first time.

Here’s some advice for Canada Screens, whose distribution set-up is handled by the NFB’s pretty fluid interface:

— Use your connections with studio and producer partners to license older test titles.

— Don’t be snobbish. Alongside award winning indie and international favourites, put up some fromage. There’s nothing embarrassing about canuxploitation films. There’s a viable market wanting rare horror films and melodrama. Importing our movies from the U.S. is painfully ironic.

— Sticking to critically acclaimed titles for the long term is too restrictive. I’ll bet adding some silent films, indie films shot on location during the 40s, 50s, or 60s will sell simply because they present glimpses of environs in hometowns like Toronto that have radically changed in the passing decades. There may not be hundreds of titles out there, but 5 or 10 would broaden CS’s customer base, if not raise its profile among cineastes.

— Price classic and rare CanCon titles reasonably, and make sure you negotiate for rental AND sales rights. Warner Archives’ $15-$20 price point, even in U.S. dollars, is a bit high. $10 to own a CanCon title is fair; $15 if there’s substantive special content is also fair.

— Indie distributors like VHX offer filmmakers a venue to rent and sell both the film proper and whole + selected extras. You could do the same for certain titles.

Hire an in-house curator who liaises with labels to sift out rare titles available for digital distribution. Contract out or produce in-house extras – commentaries or featurettes with historians, surviving cast & crew – and bundle these as rentable / buyable titles.

Even if the rights window for the films lapses, you’ll own the extras and can repackage them as free content on the main site or YouTube channel to further publicize CS’s channel, and gauge fan interest in related titles up for streaming / buying.

Use both sites to ask fans about specialty titles, like ‘Which of these films would you most like to see and own?’ You’ll have a handful of titles to release every few months, and after a year, even offer ‘bundled’ specials of CanCon and canuxploitation films around holidays or sporadic special sales.

Want more ideas? Contact me. I’m for hire.

Coming next: reviews of Jake West’s superb doc Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide: Part 2 from Severin + Grindhouse Trailer Classics from InterVision.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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