Banff ’17: Joly unveils Indigenous Screen Office

The Canadian Heritage Minister also revealed when she'll present her highly anticipated cultural policy framework.

By Regan Reid and Megan Haynes

Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly unveiled the creation of a new Indigenous Screen Office on Monday – and also set a timeline for the release of her long awaited cultural policy framework.

The new office will be charged with implementing a long-term strategy to support all levels of indigenous talent development, short and feature script development, as well as facilitate relationships with broadcasters, distributors, training institutions and federal funders.

“We know there are lots of systemic barriers to Indigenous people [telling]l their own stories,” Joly said. “There are barriers when it comes to funding, production and also distribution.”

The objective of the office, she said, is to provide Indigenous communities with the tools to tell their own stories and help develop a new generation of Indigenous filmmakers, producers, distributors and broadcasters, but also to ensure there is greater Indigenous leadership in Canadian cultural institutions like the CMF, Telefilm and the NFB.

The new office is a consortium of various media partners, including the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the CBC/Radio-Canada, the Canada Media Fund, Telefilm Canada, the Canadian Media Producers Association and the NFB. Associate partners include Bell Media, the Harold Greenberg Fund and VICE Studio Canada.

The Office’s launch brings to fruition the recommendation from the CMF, which earlier this year called for a unique body dedicated to advancing Indigenous voices on screen to be modeled after the one in Australia.

The report identified a number of barriers, including a difficulty in accessing distribution and funding, as well as a lack of representation in key decision-making positions in the industry. It further took broadcasters to task for not fairly representing Indigenous programming, often “ghettoizing” creators to APTN.

The first step will be to staffing up the office, though no details have been released at this time.

The announcement comes on the heels of increased funding for a number of programs geared towards elevating aboriginal content creators, including Telefilm’s $4 million (up from $1 million) towards Indigenous projects and CBC’s commitment to the NSI New Indigenous Voices program.

During an interview with APTN CEO Jean LaRose at the Banff World Media Festival, Joly also announced she’ll present her “vision” for the creative sector, as well as a cultural export strategy, in September (though a specific date was not provided).

While Joly was short on specifics in her presentation, she did address the issue of digital disruption in the Canadian marketplace. She said that while the European Union is examining how or if foreign digital platforms can contribute to local systems, it remains to be seen if any legislation is put in place would be legally enforceable. What her team has done and will continue to do then, is have conversations with global digital platforms (like Netflix and YouTube) about the importance of buying and promoting Canadian content in Canada.

When asked whether she will look to enforce local content requirements for foreign digital players, Joly told Playback Daily that she’ll be presenting her framework in the fall. She did add, however, that because a lot of digital players already come to Canada to shoot or partner with Canadian companies she believes it’s easier “to be at a table with them” and talk about supporting the Canadian system.

While she offered few other hints on the direction of her policy, she did say that throughout her consultations on Canadian culture in a digital world the industry told her “loud and clear” that there’s a need for greater IP protection, support for creators and stable tax incentives.

Photo: Kristian Bogner