Why I should be head of Telefilm

With no obvious replacement in the wings, I would like to propose that I take over in the top job at Telefilm Canada. Now that Wayne Clarkson is heading off to trek the Camino de Santiago and Michel Pradier has told me personally he is not applying for the job, there are many good reasons to consider an outsider for the role of executive director.

According to tradition, the executive directorship oscillates between French and English. We’ve now had two English in a row. So clearly it’s time to ease back into the French realm, if not pure laine Quebecois. I like to think I strike a happy medium with my distinctly French name, strong tourist French and Toronto address.

Apart from the opportunity to give back to the industry and serve my country, I would finally be in a position to eat in advance of official Telefilm functions rather than, as in my current role as journalist, inching around the buffet table balancing canapés and champagne while holding a notepad between my knees.

After years of maligning the organization, here’s a chance for a taste of my own medicine. A theater critic friend was once lured into directing a play himself. He described the experience as ‘bracing.’ I’m just back from a vacation and could use some bracing of my own.

I have no illusions. The top job is onerous, especially when it comes to dealing with the feisty Telefilm board and its outspoken chairman Michel Roy. But otherwise there isn’t too much to do now that the decisions on TV – the ‘tele’ part of Telefilm – are made by the CTF (soon to be CMF) and 80% of the film financing budget is allocated through performance envelopes.

Change is the essential process. My changes at Telefilm would be many.

My first steps as director would be to demand a seat on the Privy Council, signing authority on treasury cheques up to $1 billion and a guaranteed appointment as Governor General at the end of my five-year tenure. Otherwise I will threaten to extend my tenure to 10 years.

I would end the asymmetrical funding formula that sees French-language films receive one-third of the agency’s investment budget. Henceforth, two-thirds of the entire budget would be divided evenly between English-language productions and French-language productions, while the remaining third will be committed to a special Executive Director’s performance envelope at a bank in Liechtenstein.

My next move – sure to be controversial – will be to ban all non-Canadian productions at the Cannes Film Festival. This will guarantee our filmmakers those coveted Opening and Closing nights and a fair shot at some competition slots for English-language titles. Further, the Quinzaine will be rebranded as the Executive Directors’ Fortnight. This will present an opportunity for myself and other agency chiefs (Tom Perlmutter, you owe me) to present our favorite films or, better still, the films I will make between now and May with the funds from my performance envelope.

The Festival du Canada à Cannes is not as crazy as it sounds. Many film festivals are devoted to the cinema of one country at the exclusion of all others. North Korea has its Pyongyang Film Follies. The Venice Film Festival was once entirely devoted to the films of Italy. Of course, that was under Mussolini.

It will also have the effect of reducing those ever-contentious entertainment expenses as room rates at the Majestic and Carlton hotels plummet. Thus my executive team can avoid the tarnishing that befell former SODEC chief Jean-Guy Chaput after he booked a $1,300-a-night room.

Of course, discretionary spending for the Executive Director will be a different story. I will double my entertainment budget and place it all on lucky 7 at the roulette table at Circus Circus in Reno.

I will hire Sarah Polley as my go-between with the PMO and Hugh Dillon of Flashpoint as head of protocol (yes, you get to keep the assault rifle). Michael Ondaatje will write the annual report.

In his speech at the CFTPA’s Prime Time, Telefilm’s Roy said the agency would be welcoming a new executive director in the coming weeks. But Telefilm has been saying ‘in the next few weeks’ for the past few months. I’m waiting by the phone. *

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