Starlight – The Movie Channel makes final pitch to CRTC

The most obvious reason to pay to watch a Canadian film is because you want to be entertained or enlightened.

But there’s another good reason, veteran actor Paul Gross told the CRTC Thursday as Starlight – The Canadian Movie Channel made a final appeal to be licensed as a must-carry digital cable channel.

Because English Canadians just don’t know how good Canadian film is, and what they’re missing.

“It’s something that is difficult to quantify,” Gross told CRTC commissioner Stephen Simpson about the importance of ensuring access for Canadian film by compelling English Canadians to pay a 90 cents a month retail subscription rate for the privilege.

“If you go and ask people if you need to see such and such a film, they may not know unless you offer it to them. We’re talking about providing access and letting it prove itself,” Gross said.

The Starlight panelists alternately argued Canadian film has failed to connect with English-speaking Canadians because broadcasters and BDUs deny them access on the TV dial, there’s too little promotion when they do air or Hollywood overwhelms starry-eyed Canadians with its superhero tentpoles and juggernaut marketing.

In short, it’s a supply problem, not a question of demand.

Starlight shareholder David Kassie of Canaccord Financial said the notion of Canadian film being inferior to other movie offerings in the marketplace, and so going unseen, represented the “big lie.”

“The reality is when Canadians have the chance to see Canadian film, they do like them a great deal,” he argued.

It’s promotional dollars being heavily weighted to studio releases that explains why Canadians overwhelmingly choose Hollywood over Canadian films, Kassie added.

Film director David Cronenberg told the CRTC that Canadian broadcasters had chosen to focus their drama dollars on episodic series, and virtually excluded homegrown movies.

Other panelists addressed proposals from some CRTC commissioners, and those making written interventions in the process, that Netflix, VOD and other new digital platforms provided a more fitting platform for Canadian films seeking local audiences.

“VOD is not the answer. Video on demand only works for films you’ve heard about,” Mongrel Media topper Hussain Amarshi told the hearing.

The CRTC hearings into mandatory carriage of in all 16 existing and new specialty channels will continue into next week.

Photo: The Starlight TV panel included, from left to right in the front row: Lyse Fontaine, Patricia Rozema, David Cronenberg, Grant Buchanan, Norm Bolen, Robert Lantos, Denise Robert, Denys Arcand, Deepa Mehta and Paul Gross. Back row: Ian Capstick, Hussain Amarshi, Mark Musselman, Guy Maddin, Victor Loewy, Penny McDonald, David Kassie, Paul Gratton and Rick Anderson.