Canadian broadcasters on film: CBC spotlight

The pubcaster found "a strong appetite" for Canadians films during the pandemic, and hopes that funding agencies will evolve financing models to align with changing viewing habits and the shift to streaming platforms.

This fall, Playback Daily reached out to broadcasters to check in on the status of commissions, the kinds of deals they are look for and their commitment to Canadian independent film going forward.

In the spotlight today is CBC – which says it remains firmly committed to investing in a diverse range of Canadian films. Two key goals are key: supporting diversity, equity and inclusivity and developing the next generation of filmmakers.

The pubco is scheduled to take part in networking during the two-day Playback Film Summit launching tomorrow (Nov. 9), and produced All My Puny Sorrows, which is the subject of a behind-the-scenes case study set for Wednesday (Nov. 10) at 6 p.m. ET. The inaugural virtual conference includes six panels, two keynote conversations, and more than 500 networking opportunities to connect with industry leaders to help filmmakers move projects forward.

CBC Gem offers a platform for film producers, with a collection of more than 120 Canadian features available to stream for free, and through acquiring about 50 Canadian films each year.

Answers provided by CBC films senior director Mehernaz Lentin and senior director of acquisitions Jenna Bourdeau.

How many independent Canadian films did you acquire in 2019? In 2020? And how many films do anticipate acquiring in 2021/2022?

On average we acquire approximately 50 Canadian films each year including both scripted and documentary, with the majority of titles being scripted features.

List a few of your most recent independent Canadian film acquisitions:

Recent acquisitions include Edge of the Knife (first feature film shot in the Haida language); Firecracker, A Colony and The Hummingbird Project.

Has your commissioning strategy around independent Canadian film changed as a result of the pandemic?

No, we remain firmly committed to investing in a diverse range of Canadian films. CBC Films supports high-quality features that reflect, represent, and reframe a range of perspectives through character-driven stories that are at the centre of the Canadian experience. We’ve participated in over 50 features to date led by female, LGBTQ2+, Indigenous and diverse filmmakers. We have a collection of more than 120 Canadian films available to stream for free anytime on CBC Gem, which offers an unparalleled destination for Canadians to discover homegrown film. We’re also thrilled to have [had] six features supported by CBC Films at TIFF this year (All My Puny Sorrows (pictured), Carmen, Charlotte, Learn to Swim, Night Raiders and Wildhood).

Has your deal structure changed for independent Canadian film producers? What rights do you typically acquire? What is your average license term length?

When we acquire completed films and for original films that we support in production, we typically take a six-year term with one or two years of exclusivity depending on the level of CBC’s support of the film.

Are there any new audience-centric learnings about demand for independent Canadian films you’ve gleaned from the pandemic?

We’ve seen record audiences turning to CBC Gem to stream a variety of content including Canadian film, indicating that there is a strong appetite for Canadians for homegrown film. We were also thrilled to be able to offer the exclusive Canadian premiere of Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy widely to audiences across Canada last November on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

How would you describe your commitment to independent Canadian film?

As a champion of Canadian culture and creators, we are committed to bringing a rich diversity of voices and perspectives to audiences in Canada and around the world through our ongoing and significant investment in independent Canadian films. In addition to investing in features that reflect a range of perspectives at the heart of the Canadian experience, CBC offers an extensive library of homegrown cinema year-round to audiences across the country on the free CBC Gem streaming service.

CBC is a key partner of and financial trigger for feature films, which can serve as a basis to reach domestic and international audiences. We’re working closely with producers and distributors to ensure that diversity, inclusion and gender equality are taken into consideration in all aspects of feature film development and production. At the same time, we want to continue building stronger relationships with stakeholders to help promote feature films to Canadian audiences on both television and CBC Gem.

One of our goals is to discover and develop the next generation of talented filmmakers across the country, while also supporting mid-career and senior level producers and filmmakers. We want to optimize our funding allocation so that it’s directed toward both cultural and commercial achievement, including regional representation, diversity, and equity.

What hurdles do you face in acquiring more independent Canadian films?

We’re extremely interested in acquiring films from a greater diversity of filmmakers but we’re finding a shortage in the marketplace. Hopefully with new industry commitments focused on inclusion and diversity now being launched, this will change in the next few years.

Do you have an opinion about the state of independent Canadian film in 2021?

In terms of funding and financing, we are concerned about the current emphasis on theatrical and how it may not align with changing viewing habits and the increasing shift to streaming platforms. Hopefully funding agencies will evolve financing models to support wherever audiences are consuming film. We’re also hopeful that we’ll see more emerging and diverse talent break through based on new initiatives and commitments underway in the industry.