Artistic expression versus the Christian right

Heritage Minister Josée Verner has repeated with numbing earnestness that Bill C-10 is not censorship, and that she is a friend of the arts.

But that disclaimer rings hollow when set against her Conservative colleagues in Parliament, who protest against godless Canadian filmmakers for gnawing on the flesh and future of Christian youth.

There was Gary Goodyear, the Conservative member of Parliament for Cambridge, ON who rose recently in the House of Commons during a debate on the bill – which would deny tax credits to productions the feds find offensive – to talk about a multiplex in his rural riding that just opened its doors with government subsidies.

‘None of the films in the new cinema will be offensive material, unlike some past films,’ Goodyear began, before he cited Bubbles Galore and The Perfect Penis (though he must have meant Penis Dementia: The Search for the Perfect Penis, a TV doc from Markham Street Films that received funding from Telefilm Canada and the Canadian Television Fund.

‘Those kinds of movies are offensive to people in my riding, and they don’t want their taxpayer dollars to be spent in that manner,’ Goodyear said, before backing the Tory move to rewire the tax code so Canadian directors will clothe their actors and quote the Scripture.

And then there was Dave Batters, the Tory member for Palliser, SK, who used a January appearance by Telefilm Canada chair Michel Roy before the heritage committee to slam Martin Gero’s feature comedy Young People Fucking.

‘I haven’t seen this film, but it’s my understanding that the film contains a lot of soft-porn images,’ Batters argued.

He cited other films: Bubbles Galore, Rub & Tug, and even Cameron Labine’s Control Alt Delete, in which a spurned boyfriend goes online to ‘beat off to Internet porn.’ (It’s right there in the transcript.)

As absurd as they sound talking about Canadian films and TV shows they’ve often not seen, the Tory critics really mean it. Behind the spin, there really is irrationality. The third eye is twitching.

Blame the film and TV show titles. They roll off the lips of Tory MPs and their supporters: Bliss, Sperm and the Masturbators, Webdreams, Kink and G-Spot. ‘Titillating late-night fare designed almost exclusively to provoke hand-to-gland combat,’ declared the National Post’s John Ivison in a recent column about Bill C-10.

Indeed, this sorry parliamentary debate over film titles would soon be over if Sarah Polley would only shift attention from Young People Fucking by changing the name of Away from Her to Old People Fucking. Noooobody wants to see THAT film!

The heritage minister may voice soothing words about barring filmmakers from receiving tax credits as they are prosecuted for indecency, but it’s Charles McVety – the evangelical Christian leader who has taken credit for the crackdown with support from Tory backbenchers – who waves a well-thumbed tax code in hand as he promises a lake of fire and sulphur that has filmmakers in a knot.

Make no mistake: Bill C-10, in raising the specter of Canadian filmmakers shooting and editing porn films in dark cellars everywhere, is aimed at intimidating and chilling this industry.

The Tories, in playing to the outer reaches of Alberta politics and intolerance, would rather homegrown films no longer challenged, transgressed or helped define Canadian society, but were instead popular and pointless.

Many of the offending titles the Tories have cited are from first-time filmmakers, and hardly show funder Telefilm looking to undermine the sanctity of marriage and the family, but instead aiming to build and sustain a national cinema.

We haven’t seen the minister’s proposed guidelines, so it’s impossible to know at the moment whether the Conservatives’ accusations of hysteria and media hyperbole over Bill C-10 are warranted, or whether the guidelines are the product of hysteria on the part of the Tories themselves.

But as the industry awaits grand gestures from the Liberals in the Senate to kill the tax-credit amendment in Bill C-10, we need clarity – not least regarding the future of a financial model for Canadian films and TV shows that would give producers funds with one hand and claw them back with another.

The industry, caught flat-footed by Bill C-10, has finally found its footing and voice in standing up to the bizzaro politics from Ottawa. How it conducts itself over the coming weeks will determine whether the endgame will represent a victory for the industry and free artistic expression, or a victory for McVety et al.