Cinema of Canada
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|Cinema of Canada|
|No. of screens||3,114 (2015)|
|• Per capita||9.6 per 100,000 (2015)|
|Main distributors||Universal 20.9%|
Warner Bros. 13.3%
|Produced feature films (2015)|
|Number of admissions (2015)|
|Gross box office (2015)|
|National films||C$18.8 million (1.9%)|
The cinema of Canada, or Canadian cinema, dates back to the early 20th century along with the rise of filmmaking itself.
The filmmaking industry in Canada is home to several studios, primarily located in four metropolitan centres: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax. Industries and communities tend to be regional and niche in nature. Approximately 1,000 Anglophone-Canadian and 600 Francophone-Canadian feature-length films have been produced, or partially produced, by the Canadian film industry since 1911.
The cinema of English-speaking Canada is heavily intertwined with that of the United States. As such, though there is a distinctly Canadian cinematic tradition, there are Canadian films that have no discernable Canadian identity (e.g., Porky's and Meatballs), Canadian-American co-productions filmed in Canada (e.g., My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the Saw series), American productions filmed in Canada (e.g., the Night at the Museum and Final Destination films), and American films with Canadian directors and/or actors. Canadian directors who are best known for their American-produced films include Norman Jewison, Jason Reitman, Paul Haggis, and James Cameron; Cameron, in particular, wrote and directed the highest and third highest-grossing films of all time, Avatar and Titanic, respectively.
Other notable filmmakers from or based in Canada include David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta, Thom Fitzgerald, John Greyson, Clement Virgo, Allan King, Michael McGowan, and Michael Snow, Claude Jutra, Gilles Carle, Denys Arcand, Jean Beaudin, Robert Lepage, Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée, Léa Pool, Xavier Dolan, Philippe Falardeau, and Michel Brault.
Canadian actors who achieved success in Hollywood include Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer, Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds, and Seth Rogen among hundreds of others.
The first films that were shot in Canada were made at Niagara Falls, by Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumière in June 1896 and Edison Studios in December 1896. James Freer is recognized as the first Canadian filmmaker. A farmer from Manitoba, his documentaries were shown as early as 1897 and were toured across England, under the title Ten Years in Manitoba, in an effort to promote immigration to Manitoba.
The first fiction film, Hiawatha, the Messiah of the Ojibway, was made in 1903 by Joe Rosenthal. The first Canadian feature film, Evangeline, was produced by the Canadian Bioscope Company in 1913 and shot in Nova Scotia.
In 1917, the province of Ontario established the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, "to carry out educational work for farmers, school children, factory workers, and other classes." The Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau followed suit in 1918. The British Columbia Patriotic and Educational Picture Service, which produced and distributed short films about British Columbia in an attempt to counteract "Americanism" in Hollywood films, operated from 1920 to 1923.
The Cinematograph Films Act 1927 established a quota of films that had to be shown in British cinemas that would be shot in Great Britain as well as nations in the British Empire that stimulated Canadian film production. However the Cinematograph Films Act 1938 mollified the British film industry by specifying only films made by and shot in Great Britain would be included in the quota, an act that severely reduced Canadian film production.
In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British film critic and film-maker, to study the state of the government's film production and this led to the National Film Act of 1939 and the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada, an agency of the Canadian government. In part, it was founded to create propaganda in support of the Second World War, and the National Film Act of 1950 gave it the mandate "to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations." In the late 1950s, Québécois filmmakers at the NFB and the NFB Candid Eye series of films pioneered the documentary processes that became known as "direct cinema" or cinema vérité.
Federal government measures as early as 1954, and through the 1960s and 1970s, aimed to foster the development of a feature film industry in Canada; in 1968 the Canadian Film Development Corporation was established (later to become Telefilm Canada) and an effort to stimulate domestic production through tax shelters peaked in the late 1970s (see Meatballs below).
The 1961 surrealist 3-D horror film The Mask was the first Canadian film to be extensively marketed in the United States since the silent film era.  Toronto filmmaker Don Owen's drama Nobody Waved Good-bye (1964) is said to have "virtually inaugurated the modern English-Canadian feature-film"  and was on the 1984 Toronto International Film Festival list of the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time. David Secter's 1965 drama Winter Kept Us Warm was the first English-Canadian film ever screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Larry Kent directed low-budget counter-culture films such as The Bitter Ash (1963), Sweet Substitute (1964), and High (1967). Michael Snow's 1967 experimental 45-minute structural film Wavelength is considered a landmark of avant-garde cinema and was named by the Village Voice as one of the 100 best films of the 20th century.
Gilles Carle's 1965 comedy-drama La vie heureuse de Léopold Z (The Merry World of Leopold Z) helped inaugurate a popular national cinema in Quebec. Michel Brault's 1967 drama Entre la mer et l'eau douce (Between Salt and Sweet Water) enjoyed critical success and was screened at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. This film helped launch the career of actress Geneviève Bujold, who would go on to become a major star of Canadian and international films. Paul Almond's 1968 thriller Isabel, starring Bujold, won four Canadian Film Awards and was among the first Canadian films to be distributed by a major Hollywood studio.
1970 saw the release of the influential drama film Goin' Down the Road, directed by Toronto's Donald Shebib. This film has been listed on each of the once-a-decade Toronto International Film Festival polls of the greatest Canadian films of all time. Bob Clark directed several notable Canadian films in the 1970s including the early slasher film Black Christmas (1974) and the mystery thriller Murder by Decree (1979), which picked up five Genie Awards, including Best Actor for Christopher Plummer. Toronto-based director David Cronenberg first emerged as a notable figure in Canadian cinema during the late 1970s with the seminal body horror films Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977) and The Brood (1979).
Montreal-based director Claude Jutra won critical acclaim for historical dramas such as Mon Oncle Antoine (My Uncle Antoine) (1971) and Kamouraska (1973). The former film has been a fixture on the TIFF polls of the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time. Gilles Carle's films La Vraie Nature de Bernadette (The True Nature of Bernadette) (1972) and La Mort d'un bûcheron (The Death of a Lumberjack) (1973) both won multiple Canadian Film Awards and were entered at the Cannes Film Festival. Denys Arcand established himself as a filmmaker of note with La maudite galette (Dirty Money) (1972) and Réjeanne Padovani (1973). Michel Brault became the first (and to date, only) Canadian to win Best Director at Cannes, sharing the award for his 1974 film Orders (Les Ordres), which is often listed as one of the best Canadian films of all time. Jean Beaudin's 1977 historical drama J.A. Martin Photographer (J.A. Martin photographe) won a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress for Monique Mercure.
This decade would see David Cronenberg direct the body horror classics Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983) and Dead Ringers (1988), the latter of which won 10 Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, and is considered one of the greatest Canadian films of all time. Frequent Cronenberg collaborators around this time included actors Nicholas Campbell, Stephen Lack and Robert A. Silverman, cinematographer Mark Irwin, and composer Howard Shore.
The 1980s saw the emergence of the loosely-affiliated Toronto New Wave group of directors, including Atom Egoyan, John Greyson, Bruce McDonald and Patricia Rozema among others. Rozema's 1987 comedy-drama I've Heard the Mermaids Singing was the first English-language Canadian feature film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival, and won a Genie Award for Best Actress for Sheila McCarthy. Winnipeg-based Guy Maddin launched his career as a feature film director with 1988's Tales from the Gimli Hospital.
Montreal's Denys Arcand gained international recognition in the 1980s with such films as 1986's Le Déclin de l'empire Américain (The Decline of the American Empire) and 1989's Jésus de Montréal (Jesus of Montreal), which each won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and took home multiple Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture. Francis Mankiewicz's 1980 drama Les Bons débarras (Good Riddance) won eight Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, and has been named on several occasions as one of the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time by the Toronto International Film Festival. Jean-Claude Lauzon's 1987 crime thriller Un Zoo la nuit (Night Zoo) was screened at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and won a record 13 Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture.
Micheline Lanctôt directed the drama films L'Homme à tout faire (The Handyman) (1980) and Sonatine (1984), becoming the first woman to win the Genie Award for Best Director for the latter film. Léa Pool won several accolades for dramas such as La Femme de l'hôtel (A Woman in Transit) (1984), which won a Genie Award for Best Actress for Louise Marleau, and Anne Trister (1986).
This decade saw the release of several Canadian slasher films that would become cult favourites, such as Prom Night (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), and My Bloody Valentine (1981). The 1981 science fiction film Threshold won Donald Sutherland a Genie Award for Best Actor. The 1983 Bob and Doug Mackenzie comedy Strange Brew, directed by and starring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, was among the first English-language Canadian comedy films to achieve commercial success and is considered a cult classic.  The film earned over $8.5 million at the box office on a $4 million budget and won the Golden Reel Award for highest-grossing domestic film of the year.
Atom Egoyan directed several films which won widespread critical acclaim in the 1990s: The Adjuster (1991) won awards at several festivals, Exotica (1994) won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes as well as eight Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture, and The Sweet Hereafter (1997) became the first Canadian film to win the Grand Prix at Cannes, won seven Genies including Best Motion Picture, and was nominated for two prizes at the 70th Academy Awards. The latter film is frequently cited as one of the greatest Canadian films of all time, placing third in both the 2004 and 2015 TIFF polls. Actors Maury Chaykin, Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Don McKellar and Sarah Polley each appeared in two of these films, and Egoyan's wife Arsinée Khanjian acted in all three.
David Cronenberg polarized audiences and critics alike in the 1990s with films such as Naked Lunch (1991), Crash (1996) and Existenz (1999). Bruce McDonald directed cult favourites including Highway 61 (1991) and Hard Core Logo (1996), the latter of which won Toronto Film Critics Poll for Best Canadian Film. Don McKellar's directorial debut Last Night (1998) featured an ensemble cast of notable Canadian stars such as Sandra Oh (who won her second Genie Award for Best Actress), Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, David Cronenberg, Geneviève Bujold and McKellar himself. The film picked up a prize at Cannes along with the Toronto Film Critics Association award for Best Canadian Film and three Genie Awards.
Several noted Canadian films exploring the theme of sexuality were released in this decade, including John Greyson's Zero Patience (1993) and Lilies (1996) and Thom Fitzgerald's The Hanging Garden (1997). Toronto director Clement Virgo's 1995 feature film debut Rude was nominated for eight Genie Awards, won the Toronto Film Critics Poll for Best Canadian Film and is credited with helping usher in a Black Canadian film aesthetic. Lynne Stopkewich's controversial 1996 erotic thriller Kissed won a Best Actress Genie Award for Molly Parker. Vincenzo Natali's 1997 independent science-fiction horror film Cube achieved significant cult status and would go on to spawn a film series.
Jean-Claude Lauzon's 1992 coming of age-fantasy film film Léolo won three Genie Awards and is now considered one of the best Canadian films of all time, but it was to be his last film as his life was cut short by a 1997 plane crash. Montreal's Denis Villeneuve made his feature directorial debut with the 1998 drama Un 32 août sur terre (August 32nd on Earth), which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
The 1997 ice hockey comedy Les Boys (The Boys) became the biggest domestic box-office success in Canadian history up to that point, with a take surpassing $7 million in Quebec along with another $4 million in the US and would spawn a series of sequels and a TV series.
Denis Villeneuve continued his ascent in the 2000s with the films Maelström (2000) and Polytechnique (2009), which both took home multiple Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture. Denys Arcand's Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions) (2003) was the first Canadian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won two awards at Cannes, as well as six Genies including Best Motion Picture and a second Best Actor win for Rémy Girard. The 2005 ice hockey biopic Maurice Richard (The Rocket), directed by Charles Binamé, won nine Genies including acting awards for Roy Dupuis (his second win for Best Actor), Julie Le Breton and Stephen McHattie. Jean-Marc Vallée's 2005 coming of age film C.R.A.Z.Y. won 11 Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture, and in 2015 it was ranked among the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time by Toronto International Film Festival critics. Montreal director Xavier Dolan's 2009 debut feature film J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), in which he also starred, picked up three awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
The 2001 epic film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, directed by Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, won the Caméra d'Or (Golden Camera) at Cannes, picked up six Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture, and was named the greatest Canadian film of all time by a 2015 Toronto International Film Festival poll of filmmakers and critics. Atom Egoyan's 2003 historical drama Ararat won five Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture and a Best Actress award for Arsinée Khanjian. Sarah Polley made her feature film directorial debut with Away from Her (2006), which received two nominations at the 80th Academy Awards and won seven Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture and an unprecedented third Best Actor win for Gordon Pinsent. The First World War drama Passchendaele (2008), directed by and starring Paul Gross, picked up five Genies including Best Motion Picture and received the Golden Reel Award for Canada's top-grossing film of 2008.
Winnipeg director Guy Maddin, known for incorporating the aesthetics of Silent-era films into his work, won international acclaim in the 2000s for such films as Cowards Bend the Knee (2003), The Saddest Music in the World (2003), Brand Upon the Brain! (2006), and My Winnipeg (2007), the latter of which won the Toronto Film Critics Association award for Best Canadian Film and was named by Roger Ebert as the tenth best film of the decade. Actors Darcy Fehr and Louis Negin each appeared in three of these films.
This decade saw the release of numerous popular Canadian comedy films such as FUBAR (2002), Men with Brooms (2002), Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006), Fido (2006), and Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006). The police comedy De père en flic (Father and Guns) (2009) was a box-office smash in Quebec and would later be followed by a sequel.
Xavier Dolan continued his rise to prominence in the 2010s, directing and sometimes starring in multiple-award-winning films such as Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) (2010), Laurence Anyways (2012), Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm) (2013), Mommy (2014), and Juste la fin du monde (It's Only the End of the World) (2016), the latter of which became the second Canadian film to win the Grand Prix at Cannes.
Denis Villeneuve's 2010 film Incendies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won eight Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture. He followed this up with the English-language surrealist neo-noir psychological thriller Enemy (2013), which earned numerous accolades including the 2014 Toronto Film Critics Association award for Best Canadian Film, before departing for Hollywood.
Philippe Falardeau won acclaim for the 2011 film Monsieur Lazhar, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won six Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture. Kim Nguyen's 2012 film Rebelle (War Witch) picked up ten Canadian Screen Awards including Best Motion Picture and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, making the third consecutive year a film from Quebec was nominated. The 2013 drama Le Démantèlement (The Dismantling), directed by Sébastien Pilote, won a second Best Actor prize for Gabriel Arcand at the Canadian Screen Awards. Sophie Deraspe's 2019 drama Antigone was well-received by critics and won five Canadian Screen Awards including Best Motion Picture.
This decade saw impressive directorial debuts from several English-language Canadian filmmakers. Brandon Cronenberg's feature-length directorial debut, the 2012 science fiction horror film Antiviral, competed in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Albert Shin directed the films In Her Place (2014) and Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019) which were both nominated for multiple Canadian Screen Awards. Matthew Rankin's feature-length directorial debut, the surrealist historical comedy-drama The Twentieth Century (2019), won prizes at various film festivals and took home three Canadian Screen Awards.
The 2010s saw a resurgence in Canadian horror and exploitation films such as Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), Backcountry (2014), The Void (2016), Les Affamés (Ravenous) (2017), Pyewacket (2017), and Random Acts of Violence (2019).
Contemporary production and distribution
As in all cinema, the line between broadcast and cinema continues to be blurred in Canada as the means of production and distribution converge.
A typical Canadian film production is made with money from a complex array of government funding and incentives, government mandated funds from broadcasters, broadcasters themselves, and film distributors. International co-productions are increasingly important for Canadian producers. Smaller films are often funded by arts councils (at all levels of government) and film collectives.
The National Film Board of Canada is internationally renowned for its animation and documentary production. More recently it has been criticized for its increasingly commercial orientation; only one third of its budget is now spent on the production of new films.
The major production centres are Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In 2011, Toronto ranked third in North America, behind only Los Angeles and New York City, in total industry production; however, for several years previous, Vancouver's industry outputs exceeded those for Toronto.
Alliance Atlantis (acquired by CanWest Global Communications in 2007) is the major Canadian distributor of American and international films and in 2003 it ceased to produce films (and almost all television) to focus almost exclusively on distribution. Lions Gate Entertainment has also become a major distributor in recent years.
Distribution continues to be a problem for Canadian filmmakers, though an established network of film festivals also provide important marketing and audience exposure for Canadian films. The largest and most prominent festivals are the Toronto International Film Festival, considered one of the most important events in North American film, and the Vancouver International Film Festival, but a large number of film festivals throughout the country, both general interest events and specialty festivals devoted to particular genres of film, provide important opportunities for both Canadian and international filmmakers to gain exposure. See also List of film festivals in Canada. Very often, however, a Canadian film's largest opportunity to achieve a significant audience comes from negotiating television carriage rights with a broadcaster such as CBC Television, Crave or Showcase.
Film awards and celebrations
Canada's national film awards were first introduced in 1949 as the Canadian Film Awards. Often plagued with organizational problems, they were taken over in 1978 by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television to become the Genie Awards; in 2012, the Academy merged the Genie Awards with its Gemini Awards program for English-language television production to create the contemporary Canadian Screen Awards.
Although all Canadian films regardless of language are eligible for the Canadian Screen Awards, Québec Cinéma also presents the separate Prix Iris program for film production in Quebec. A few other regions in Canada also have their own regional film and television production awards, including the Rosie Awards in Alberta and the Leo Awards in British Columbia.
Many of Canada's film festivals present awards to honour the best Canadian and international films screened at each annual event; the most famous and important of these are the awards presented by the Toronto and Vancouver film festivals. The Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award, in particular, has built an international reputation as one of the first major "precursor" awards to the Academy Award nomination race. Annual critics' awards are also presented by the Toronto Film Critics Association, the Vancouver Film Critics Circle and the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma.
Various local chapters of ACTRA, Canada's labour union for actors and actresses, present annual ACTRA Awards to honour performances in film and television production within the chapter's local service area; ACTRA formerly presented Canada's main national television awards from 1972 to 1986, when they were taken over by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television as the Gemini Awards. Craft awards are also presented by the Directors Guild of Canada for film and television direction, the Writers' Guild of Canada for screenwriting, the Canadian Society of Cinematographers for film and television cinematography, and the Canadian Alliance of Film and Television Costume and Arts Design for costume design.
As well, the Toronto International Film Festival polls film critics and festival programmers from across Canada to announce an annual Canada's Top Ten list of the year's best Canadian feature and short films.
Organizations and publications
Film organizations in Canada
- Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television
- Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers
- Canadian Cinema Editors
- Canadian Film Centre
- Canadian Film Institute
- Canadian Society of Cinematographers
- Cinema Politica
- Documentary Organization of Canada
- Film and Video Arts Society
- Independent Filmmakers Cooperative of Ottawa
- Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto
- Québec Cinéma
- Reel Canada
- Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative
- TIFF Cinematheque
- Toronto Film Critics Association
- Trinity Square Video
- Volatile Works
- Winnipeg Film Group
- Writers Guild of Canada
- BC Film Commission (BC)
- Manitoba Film and Music (MB)
- Motion Picture Association – Canada
- National Film Board of Canada
- Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (QC)
- Telefilm Canada
- Atelier national du Manitoba
- Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada
- British Columbia Patriotic and Educational Picture Service (government agency)
- Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau (government agency)
- Challenge for Change
- Federal Women's Film Program (government program)
- Greater Victoria Film Commission
- Ontario Film Review Board (provincial government agency)
Collections and exhibitors
Canadian film theatres
- Cinémas Guzzo (Quebec)
- Cineplex Entertainment (see also list of Cineplex movie theatres)
- Entertainment Centrum (Ontario)
- Imagine Cinemas
- IMAX Corporation
- Landmark Cinemas
- Rainbow and Magic Lantern Cinemas
Individual film theatres
- Broadway Theatre (Saskatoon)
- CAA Theatre (Ottawa)
- Corona Theatre (Montreal)
- Garneau Theatre
- Lyric Theatre (Swift Current, SK)
- Outremont Theatre (Montreal)
- Park Theatre (Vancouver)
- Port Elmsley Drive-In theatre
- Princess Theatre (Edmonton)
- Rex Theatre (Whitewood, SK)
- Roxy Theatre (Saskatoon)
- Rio Theatre (Vancouver)
- Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (Vancouver)
- Vancouver International Film Centre (Vancouver)
- Vogue Theatre (Vancouver)
- Ouimetoscope (Montreal)
- Barrie Uptown Theater (Barrie, ON)
- ByTowne Cinema (Ottawa)
- Capitol Cinema (Ottawa)
- Capitol Theatre (Woodstock, ON)
- Elgin Theatre (Ottawa)
- Seville Theatre (Montreal)
- Snowdon Theatre (Montreal)
- York Theatre (Montreal)
- 24 images
- Cinema Canada
- Cinema Scope
- Cinema Sewer
- FPS Magazine
- Point of View
- Rue Morgue
- Take One
- What If?
- The Art Institute of Vancouver
- Canadian Film Centre
- Gulf Islands Film and Television School
- Institut national de l'image et du son
- Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema
- National Screen Institute
- Sheridan College
- Toronto Film School
- Trebas Institute
- University of Regina Department of Film
- Vancouver Film School
Issues in the Canadian film industry
Of all Canadian cultural industries, English-Canadian cinema has the hardest time escaping the shadow of its American counterpart. Between the marketing budgets of mainstream films, and the largely US-controlled film distribution networks, it has been nearly impossible for most distinctively Canadian films to break through to a wide audience.
Although Canadian films have often received critical praise, and the National Film Board has won more Academy Awards than almost any other institution (for both their animation and documentary work), in many Canadian cities moviegoers do not even have the option of seeing such films, as they have poor distribution and are not shown at any theatres. One This Hour Has 22 Minutes sketch parodied an Atom Egoyan-like director whose films had won numerous international awards, but had never actually been released or exhibited.
Almost all Canadian films fail to make back their production costs at the box office. For example, Men With Brooms made CA$1,000,000 in its general domestic release, which by Canadian standards is fairly high. However, it was made on a budget of over CA$7,000,000. French-Canadian films, on the other hand, are often more successful—as with French-language television, the language difference makes Quebec audiences much more receptive to Canadian-produced films. In most years, the top-grossing Canadian film is a French-language film from Quebec. (See also Cinema of Quebec.) By comparison, Australian films, made in a country with a smaller population than Canada's, more frequently make their money back from the domestic market. Many do comparatively better; the best known example is Mad Max, made with the then unknown Mel Gibson, and with a budget of A$350,000, and which made A$5.6 million in its domestic release alone.
Although many Canadians have made their names in Hollywood, they have often started their careers in Los Angeles, despite Toronto, Vancouver or Montréal being thriving filmmaking centres in their own right. Some actors or directors who have started their early careers in Canada include: David Cronenberg, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Ivan Reitman, Derek Harvie, Seth Rogen, Eugene Levy, Tom Green, Scott Mosier, and Paul Haggis. However, despite these successes, several actors have favoured moving to Los Angeles to further pursue their careers.
Canada's difficulties in the film industry are often difficult to explain. The following explanations have been proposed for why Canadian films and television have often failed to establish an audience in Canada or internationally:
- Films labelled as American films could often be better described as collaborations between Canada and the US. In addition, films which are sometimes designated as "American" productions often involve a higher-percentage of Canadian participation but the "American" designation is favoured for tax purposes. Also, unlike other countries who tend to have citizens with discernible accents, the American media too rarely highlights or identifies actors, directors or producers as Canadian in origin, leaving the false perception that few Canadians work in the industry.
- Canada's film industry competes directly with that of the United States. Production costs between the two countries are similar (they are lower in Australia) meaning that Canadian films often need a budget equal to that of an American film of similar quality. Canadian film studios rarely, if ever, have the budgets to make films that can directly compete with the most popular Hollywood fare. Instead, the vast majority of Canadian films are character-driven dramas or quirky comedies of the type that often appeal to critics and art house film audiences more than to mass audiences.
- During the 1970s, Canada's tax policy encouraged making films merely to obtain a significant tax credit. As such, many films were produced merely for tax purposes, and quality became unimportant. For example, producers of Canadian films were allowed to take a fee out of the production costs, something that is not allowed in the United States, where producers may only take a fee once the film earns back its production costs (the exact situation that drove the plot line in The Producers). This rule, in particular, led to a large rush of Canadian-made B-movies in the 1970s and 1980s.
- While British and Australian filmmakers embrace their cultural heritage in film, Canadian films often have no discernible connection to Canada. It often comes as a surprise to many people that movies like Porky's, Children of a Lesser God and The Art of War were partially produced in Canada, as they are indistinguishable from films made entirely in the United States.
- When there are major Canadian productions, the lead roles often go to American or British actors. For example, in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, both the role of Duddy and his father went to American-born actors (the then unknown Richard Dreyfuss and the established character actor Jack Warden respectively). Joseph Wiseman, who played Duddy's uncle, was born in Montreal, but had not lived or worked in Canada in over forty years. Although this phenomenon is not as common today as it was in the 1970s, Canadian films do still sometimes cast famous foreign actors: Michael Caine starred in the 2003 film The Statement, Helena Bonham Carter played the lead role in 1996's Margaret's Museum and Olivia Newton-John had a starring role in Score: A Hockey Musical.
- Unlike radio and television, which both have strict Canadian content regulations, there is no protection for Canadian content in movie theatres. The distribution networks for Canadian movie theatres are largely controlled by the American studio system, and Canada is in fact the only non-U.S. country that is considered part of the domestic market by Hollywood studios. As a result, the marketing budgets and screening opportunities for Canadian films are limited. In many cities outside of Canada's largest metropolitan markets, the local movie theatres almost never book a Canadian film, and even in many of the major markets Canadian films are usually only available in repertory theatres or on the film festival circuit. Once again, the exception is Québec, which has many French-Canadian produced films running on multiple screens all over the province alongside both French-produced films and dubbed or subtitled American films.
- In a phenomenon which can be likened to the theory of cultural cringe, a considerable number of Canadians reflexively dismiss all Canadian films as inherently inferior to Hollywood studio fare. This is not necessarily connected to reality, as many critically acclaimed films have been made in Canada, but the idea nevertheless presents a significant hurdle to Canadian filmmakers seeking to build an audience for their work.
Porky's and Meatballs
For many years the most successful Canadian film of all time at the Canadian box office was Porky's; it was produced by a Canadian team (though directed by Bob Clark, an American, and shot in Florida), but only with one of the major American studios backing distribution. (Porky's' record was widely reported as broken in 2006 by the bilingual police comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop, but that assessment does not take inflation into account. Porky's still retains its status as the most successful Canadian film internationally.)
Meatballs makes an excellent case study on common criticisms of the Canadian film industry. Produced and shot entirely in Canada on a budget of CA$1,600,000, it was a tremendous hit, one of the most financially successful Canadian films of all time. As with Children of a Lesser God, although it takes place in a summer camp, there is nothing recognizably Canadian about the location or the characters, except for a Montreal Canadiens sweater. The starring role went to American comedian Bill Murray in his earliest featured film role. The chief love interest was played by Canadian Kate Lynch, who won the Genie Award that year for Best Actress. The casting of Americans in the "Tax-Shelter Era", as well as today, often caters to an American audience. However, it provided Murray with his breakout role. Almost all of its box office gross was in the United States, where it took in US$43,000,000. It received a much more limited release in Canada.
In 2010, Resident Evil: Afterlife grossed more than $280 million at the box office internationally and nearly $7 million domestic, making it the most successful production in Canadian film history.
The Department of Canadian Heritage gave Telefilm Canada more funds in 2001 to help develop the Canadian film industry, with the goal of having Canadian feature films obtain five per cent of the domestic box office by 2005. Telefilm divided this between English films then capturing four per cent of the market and French films at 12 per cent. At first, the new initiative did not seem to be making much progress: at the end of 2003, English films represented only one per cent of the domestic box office, while French films made up 20 per cent. The overall goal of the Canada Feature Film Fund now is to have Canadian feature films capture five per cent of the domestic box office by 2006, one year behind schedule. It is now 2014 and they have not met their goal.
According to Telefilm Canada, From Script to Screen, the two-year-old feature film policy created to improve the success rate of Canadian films, is seeing results. Before the initiative, the market share for Canadian films was 1.4 per cent and is now 3.6 per cent. Furthermore, the French-language cinema accounts for 20 per cent of the market.
In recent years, there has been a cultural resurgence in Canada's aforementioned documentary stream. Films exploring Canada's identity and role on the world stage have become popular. Due to a political and social split between their American counterparts, Canadian independent documentaries have begun garnering a cult status. Current examples are Mark Achbar's award-winning and top grossing Canadian feature documentary The Corporation, and Albert Nerenberg's underground hit Escape to Canada. These films not only nurture homegrown talent, inspiring local industry but also creating a unique voice for Canada itself.
For all the industry's challenges, quite a few Canadian films have succeeded in making a cultural impact. Some of the most famous or important Canadian films include:
Canadian film tends to be more director-driven than star-driven, and have much more in common with the European auteur model of filmmaking than with the Hollywood star system. The most famous Canadian film directors are very often the real star power of their films, more so than the actors they cast. Notable Canadian film directors include:
Notable Canadian expatriate directors who are or have worked primarily in Hollywood include:
While countless Canadian-born actors have worked in Hollywood over the decades, there are a large number who have enjoyed significant success in the domestic cinema of Canada. This is a list of performers who have received multiple Canadian Screen Award nominations and/or appeared in many notable Canadian-made films (including international co-productions). Most of these actors are Canadians, but some foreign-born performers who have achieved notable distinction in the Canadian film industry are also included.
Notable Canadian expatriate film actors who are or have worked primarily in Hollywood and only occasionally, if at all, appeared in Canadian-produced films include:
- History of Canadian animation
- Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood
- List of Canadian films
- List of Canadian actors
- Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time
- Documentary Organization of Canada
- Northern (genre)
- Hot Docs
- List of filming locations in Metro Vancouver
- List of films shot in Toronto
- Montreal in films
- World cinema
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