Closure of OFA raises issues for distributors, festivals in Ontario

The industry welcomes an update of the province's ratings Act, and a potential move to a national system, but faces the short-term struggles of operating without the OFA.

Canadian distributors and festival organizers face short-term issues following the closure of the Ontario Film Authority, as the industry awaits long-term solutions from the provincial government.

The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services announced on Sept. 27 that the OFA would close as of Oct. 1, forcing distributors to go to B.C.’s ratings system, Consumer Protection BC, for film ratings. With the closure of the OFA, the ministry launched an industry-wide consultation for a modernized version of the Act, with long-term plans set to release in spring 2020.

As part of the consultation, TIFF held a panel with distributors, film festival heads and theatre operators at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Nov. 1. The panel  included Nuria Bronfman, executive director of the Movie Theatre Association of Canada; Emily Harris, SVP, business and legal affairs at Entertainment One; John Bain, head of distribution at levelFILM; Andria Wilson, executive director at Inside Out; Eric Veillette, programming director at Revue Cinema; with Diana Sanchez, senior director, film at TIFF, serving as the moderator.

Minister of Government and Consumer Services and Registrar General Lisa Thompson addressed the audience ahead of the panel, while Hussain Lalani, director of the Public Safety and Operations Policy Branch at the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, addressed questions from panelists and audience members during a Q&A session.

While panelists agreed that a modern ratings system is welcomed, especially one that can champion a move to a national classification body, a number of short-term issues were raised.

The classification fees given to Consumer Protection BC is staying in B.C., with little transparency as to where the money is going. Whereas the OFA only served the film industry, Consumer Protection BC also deals in licenses for debt collection, telemarketing and funeral services.

Film festivals also face challenges when it comes to their youth programming. In the interim, festivals are exempted from requiring a rating for their films, but films without a classification are restricted to audiences 18 and over. That poses a serious challenge for festival programs aimed at youth, especially for Inside Out, which promotes films with LGBTQ subject matter. “[Educators and youth outreach programs] are looking for that ratings confirmation,” said Wilson. Lalani pointed out that the government is currently working with festivals on a case-by-case basis.

In the long term, industry members see the move to change the Act as largely positive. Canada is the only country that does not have a national film classification body, creating unnecessary red tape for any distributor interested in Canada-wide film release.

But, according to Bronfman, the federal government can only move the needle on one if a provincial government “champions” it. A national system is still years away, but a new Ontario ratings body can act as a guide for one, and also help to reflect modern advisory needs, such as warnings for flashing lights and moments of suicide or self-harm. Bronfman also said some of the language in the current Act, which was last updated in 2005, is outdated.

Tensions rose, however, during the Q&A session. Audience members didn’t pull any punches when questioning Lalani and Thompson about the lack of transparency regarding the sudden and quiet dissolution of the OFA. Lalani explained that the government “had to move very quickly” to act on the loss of revenue of the OFA, which was a result of a 30% decline in the number of films classified.

Another audience member compared the shuttering of the OFA to the province’s handling of the sex-ed curriculum, which Thompson previously oversaw as Minister of Education, asking if the move to change the ratings system was “ideologically driven.” Thompson refuted the claim, defending the province’s handling of the curriculum and stating that they are “committed to working [with the industry] through this consultation.”

The online consultation closed Oct. 28, but members of the industry are still welcome to contact the ministry’s Public Safety and Operations Policy Branch by phone or email.

Image: Unsplash