Toronto protestors decry cutbacks to documentary funding

Filmmakers, festival reps and documentary fans stopped traffic on Bloor Street Friday to raise awarenesss during Hot Docs.

“Docs not jets” and “Cuts to the arts hurt us all” were just two of the many messages being chanted by film and TV industry insiders as they took to the streets on Friday.

A group of about 50 filmmakers, producers, distributors and festival programmers gathered outside the Royal Ontario Museum with signs and banners during the Hot Docs International Film Festival.

The so-called “symbolic moratorium” saw protesters stop traffic along Bloor St. West on multiple occasions, as they rallied against the Conservative government’s cuts to the arts, specifically the funding mechanisms for documentary films.

“Soon, we’re going to find a dearth of documentary production in the country and people need to know because documentaries are popular,” one protester, Lalita Krishna, an independent documentary producer with In Sync Media, told Playback Daily.

“A lot of people are coming out to watch documentaries [at Hot Docs], but not many realize that there are not going to be that many produced over the course of the next few years,” she added.

According to the protesters, the industry cutbacks made since 2008 have slashed 1,500 full-time documentary-related jobs, but Joanne Jackson, an independent producer, said the more recent cutbacks made at the CBC, NFB and Telefilm will only make life harder for documentary filmmakers.

Jackson has been working for two years on a project that was supposed to go through the Telefilm Rogers Theatrical Documentary Fund, but she fears the reductions to its funding will make the already competitive process even more difficult. 

According to Eyesteelfilm producer Daniel Cross, media companies have expanded their classification of what “documentary” is.

“They’ve redefined the word documentary to mean factual entertainment,” he told Playback. As a result, cheaper-to-make reality programs are receiving more of the money.

Though criticism of the government was the primary message of the day, the protesters weren’t without their suggestions to save Canada’s documentary industry.

For Jackson, it means a fundamental shift in how documentaries are perceived.

“The broadcasters need to start looking at them as an asset and not as a liability on their channels. There’s record attendance here at Hot Docs. People love documentary film, yet the broadcasters are insisting that they don’t have a place on television,” she insisted.

Krishna agreed, adding that “documentaries are an expression of our culture. They’re a preservation of Canadian culture. We need to keep in mind that documentaries need to be supported in order to be made.”


This story has been updated, as an earlier version made an inaccurate reference to the Telefilm Rogers Theatrical Documentary Fund’s cut.

Douglas Chow, Telefilm’s manager of external communications, pointed out that the Fund has not been cut by 50%, but rather Telefilm had to reduce its portion of the fund by 50%, to $500,000 from $1 million. Meanwhile, Rogers’ portion of $500,000 has not been impacted.

He added that Telefilm is currently in negotiations with other partners to restore the $500,000 that was cut.

All photos by Jordan Twiss