Sally Lee to lead the Canadian Independent Screen Fund

Lee will work to establish a $10-million annual fund to support screen-based content by Black and people of colour professionals.

Veteran Toronto arts leader and consultant Sally Lee has been appointed executive director of the Canadian Independent Screen Fund (CISF) as the organization looks for investments to build a sustainable support system for creators from Black and racially diverse communities.

Under the newly created leadership role, Lee is working with the board to establish the $10 million annual fund for the development and production of screen-based content by Black and people of colour creators across Canada.

Lee has more than three decades of experience in the arts and culture sector, with previous positions including executive director of the Reel Asian International Film Festival and of the artists’ rights organization CARFAC Ontario.

She’s also held management positions at the Toronto International Film Festival, Soulpepper Theatre Company and Workman Arts. Most recently Lee has worked as an independent consultant for arts organizations.

“As an independent fund run both for and by members of racialized communities, CISF is uniquely positioned to meaningfully address some of the historical and systemic inequities in bringing BPOC stories to the screen,” said Lee, in a release.

CISF originally ran as the not-for-profit charitable organization Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund from 1991 to 2008, before it ceased operations due to a series of government arts cuts.

A coalition of industry leaders — from organizations including BIPOC TV & Film, the Racial Equity Media Collective and the Black Screen Office (BSO) Group — helped revive the fund in September 2020.

The rebrand included a new board and revised mandate to focus exclusively on the development and production of screen-based projects by Black and people of colour creators who are emerging, mid-level and established.

At the time of launch, CISF proposed to Canadian Heritage that the federal government contribute $10 million annually to the fund for the next five fiscal years; the ministry did not provide funding at the time.

CISF co-chair Lalita Krishna, president of Sync Media, tells Playback Daily the organization is still working to build that amount through public and private investments from the Ministry of Heritage and agencies like the Canada Media Fund, Telefilm, Rogers and Telus.

Krishna says CISF has applied to be recognized as a Certified Independent Production Fund with the CRTC so it can also access BDU contributions and tangible benefits in addition to forming partnerships with different groups.

Last month the BSO announced 16 scripts for a $750,000, three-year development fund launched in partnership with CISF and Rogers Group of Funds. CISF co-chair and BSO board member Jennifer Holness, president of Hungry Eyes Media, says the Rogers partnership serves as “a proof of concept” to show how the new organization can manage this kind of money.

The co-chairs say the CMF has also asked CISF to run an upcoming business affairs program, set to launch early in the new year.

Krishna says the two organizations are also in talks to see how CISF can administer some of the $60 million the CMF was allocated in the 2021 federal budget.

The co-chairs tout CISF as a necessary tool for BPOC screen-based creators who are severely under-financed and can’t secure the broadcast investment needed to receive production funding from the CMF’s Pilot Program for Racialized Communities (PPRC). Holness notes that the first PPRC contribution comes in the form of a licence fee top-up, to a maximum of 40% of the project’s eligible costs, so more funding is often needed.

“There is a gap and we fill that gap,” says Holness.

Image courtesy of the Canadian Independent Screen Fund.