Michael Hennessy urges grassroots promotion of Canadian content

"Do your thing. It doesn't matter. We're not going to tell you what to do," the producers lobbyist (pictured) told a Banff festival panel on the industry-wide national promotional strategy.

It’s not often you hear an industry leader concede control on how homegrown film, TV and digital content will be presented and promoted to ordinary Canadians.

But that’s exactly what Michael Hennessy, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Production Association, did Monday in urging a vanguard of grassroot groups to step forward to help complete the job.

“Do your thing. It doesn’t matter. We’re not going to tell you what to do,” Hennessy told a Banff World Media Festival panel to update an evolving national promotional strategy.

Hennessy said the industry doesn’t have the luxury of time to allow more reports and studies to produce top-down control of how Canadian content is promoted.

Instead, he said the effort to showcase Canadian content to targeted audiences and ordinary Canadians should percolate up from below.

The CMPA boss said any industry working group under the banner of Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund – both behind the national promotional strategy – was bound to appear like a closed shop to some.

“Anyone not involved thinks they’ve been excluded,” Hennessy warned.

So he urged a return to first principles, like a self-organized effort to help promote the success of the industry.

Why? Because the Canadian industry depends on public and political support to justify tax credits and other key subsidies.

“The only way to prove that is to show ordinary Canadians are watching the content,” Hennessy added.

So it was not about stakeholders exercising sway.

Instead, it’s about changing the minds of ordinary Canadians about homegrown media content.

The notion of Telefilm Canada as a catalyst to Canadian-content promotion, rather than  just an industry arbiter, was echoed by Carolle Brabant, Telefilm Canada’s Executive Director.

“A shared commitment to promotion on behalf of our entire industry will allow Canadian feature films and Canadian stars to reach larger audiences,” Brabant argued.

She urged recent festival and awards show recognition for Canadian films at Cannes, Berlin, the Oscars underlined the value of celebrating that success, and for strategies on how that might be done industry-wide to emerge.

“One of the answers was cooperation, working together to promote and give access to our content wherever, and whenever, people wanted to see it,” Brabant said of recent industry consultations to forge a path forward.

Monday’s update on the national promotional strategy revealed indie producer iThentic has pacted with Telefilm Canada and the CMF to identify back catalogue Canadian titles for a library of homegrown content to be offered to Canadian consumers.

Telefilm Canada and the CMF will also return to film festivals in Calgary and St. John’s to once again hold red carpet screenings to entice local power players to focus on Canadian content.

Plans are also on the drawing board to follow Canada’s country of honour spotlight at MIPCOM 2012 with a similar promotional drive at the upcoming 2013 edition in Cannes.

Other possible promotional measures including arranging set visits for the public countrywide in cooperation with local tourism officials to get Canadians excited about homegrown content.

Valerie Creighton, president and CEO of the CMF, after outlining various industry initiative, said the national promotional strategy at root would rely on widespread cooperation to impress politicians by revealing support for homegrown media by ordinary consumers.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure that all of the information about the great success of Canadian content, how well it sells around the world, is driven towards public awareness and decision makers,” Creighton argued.