More ado about Canadian films, tax cuts, etc.

The Globe and Mail has two new stories on Bill C-10, the proposed revision to the Income Tax Act that would allow the government to deny tax credits to Canadian films deemed “offensive” after they have already gone into production.

First, there is this comment by John Doyle:

It’s news to me that Canada is a Christian Evangelical country. The other evening, while consuming a few measures of dry sherry I felt inspired to contact God and, it turns out, it’s news to Him, too. In fact, God told me Himself that He’s a Trailer Park Boys kinda guy. He loves it. People who aren’t rich or successful getting along, taking care of each other, being tolerant of foibles and idiocy, and being kind to kitties. He doesn’t have a problem with the swearing. He’s heard worse.

God also pointed out that Stock Day, who is in constant touch with Him, is also a Trailer Park Boys kinda guy. He even had his photo taken with the Boys in Ottawa a few weeks ago. This was indeed a riddle. And then God moseyed off to brood on Darfur, so He was too busy to explain.

It eventually occurred to me, the day after, when the dry sherry was all gone, what the Conservatives’ problem with culture might be. It’s not about moralizing. It’s not genuine fear of a moral abdication through the media of film and television. It’s not even righteous anger.

It’s social fury. A fury that the hipsters, not the frat boys, are having the real fun. A fury that it’s no longer easy to figure out what’s wrong and exploitive. A fury that what was once dismissed as the exploitation of women is now deemed empowering of women. A fury that the lines keep shifting in the matter of defining what’s acceptable to the majority of Canadians. A fury that people have different tastes. A fury that taste is not something that can be defined by a parliamentary committee, not even if somebody in direct contact with God has had a word with the parliamentary committee. A fury that in Canada, the upholding of tolerance is more important than the definition of taste. . . .

And then, there is this satire piece by Rick Mercer, written in the form of a letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to his fellow Conservatives:

As you no doubt have heard, we are now fixing the criteria for tax credits for Canadian movies and TV shows. From now on, we can simply deny tax credits to productions if we find them obscene or in any way personally offensive to our way of life. I see the future, my friends, and it stars Anne of Green Gables. . . .

So, on top of running the country, we have to watch all these God-forsaken Canadian movies. Who knew there were so many?

Today, we screened a new movie, something called the Trailer Park Boys. Poor Stockwell, he had a seizure during the opening credits and began to hyperventilate into a brown paper bag.

My friends, cutting off tax credits and probably bankrupting a company is not a decision I make lightly; luckily this film is made by a company in Atlantic Canada, so it’s okay. This Trailer Park business just reinforces my belief that the region is mired in a culture of defeat. As I said to Chuck Strahl, our Minister of Indian Affairs, instead of glorifying drugs and violence they should simply make a nice show like The Forest Rangers. Chuck agreed: “You got that right boss, that Bubbles is no Joe Two Rivers.” You can see why I trust Chuck so much.

Helena Guergis, Secretary of State for sport, had a good idea that could save the production. “Why not add a talking car,” she said, “like Herbie the love bug?” Helena loves Herbie. She said Herbie goes to Monte Carlo was her favourite movie.

This horrified poor Stockwell. Throwing his panic bag aside, he shouted that such behaviour in a Volkswagen clearly indicated that Herbie was possessed by Satan. He told us the only thing that would fix that Love bug was a run through a carwash of holy water. This led Peter MacKay to inform us that when he was in university, a “love bug” meant that it hurt when you peed. Peter goes too far sometimes. He tortures Stockwell any chance he can get. Those two are always at it; if it’s not arguing over how best to proceed in the Middle East, it’s who looks better in fatigues.

Anyway, we decided that the Trailer Park movie could be saved, but only if all the scenes involving drugs, sex, guns and premarital sex were removed. Looks like it comes in at two and a half minutes now. The only thing left are shots of Bubbles and his kittens. I wish more people would make movies that are about kittens or puppies or rabbits. . . .

For those who don’t recognize the reference, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (2006) is based on a hit TV show and happens to be one of the more successful English-Canadian films ever made, in box-office terms. Speaking of which, this other story in yesterday’s Globe and Mail looks at some of the good news and bad news coming out of this year’s Genie Awards:

Things are good because three of the five films up for best picture – Away from Her, Eastern Promises and L’âge des ténèbres – earned serious attention at this year’s Academy Awards (in L’âge‘s case as a semi-finalist for best foreign film). Telefilm Canada, which marked its 40th anniversary recently, went so far as to buy a full-page ad in this paper’s Feb. 9 Review section touting its involvement and investment – almost $4.8-million in production and marketing – in Eastern Promises and Away from Her.

Another good thing, at least from the perspective of Telefilm executive director Wayne Clarkson, is that this year’s Genies “are wonderfully balanced” between solid anglophone entries (three in total, including Shake Hands with the Devil) and their francophone counterparts (two, including Continental, un film sans fusil) for the best picture nod.

This is in sharp distinction to last year when four of the five nominees were for Quebec-originated films and the only non-Quebec candidate was Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.

It’s the worst of times because, critical huzzahs aside, it was a dismal year at the box-office for Canadian films. David Cronenberg’s chiller thriller Eastern Promises may have earned as much as $50-million world-wide, but only $3.5-million of this came from Canada where, at its peak last fall, the movie was playing on 178 screens.

Similarly, Away from Her‘s commercial gross was $1.4-million from showing on 28 screens here.

As a result, in 2007, Canadian English-language films earned only 1 per cent of the $729.1-million that English-language movies grossed from Canadian theatres. Certainly this is better than the 0.3 per cent recorded in 2001- but is 1 per cent anyone’s idea of a celebratory moment?

Even Quebec’s French-language cinema sector had a poor year. In 2005, Canadian French-language films had a 26.6 per cent market share. In 2007, it fell to 16.3 per cent, or roughly $21-million on a total box-office of $128.5-million, according to Telefilm numbers.

Twenty-two per cent of this $21-million came courtesy of just one film, the ribald comedy Les trois p’tits cochons, which, with its gross of $4.5-million, reigned as last year’s Canadian box-office champ – and this without any commercial screenings outside Quebec.

Blend the Québécois market share with that of the English sector and you find the 113 Canadian films released commercially last year accounted for only 3.3 per cent of the hundreds of millions of dollars that Canadians spent going to the movies. . . .

Make of all that whatever you will.

MAR 5 UPDATE: The Globe and Mail has two new stories.

First, Gayle MacDonald focuses on the fact that it is only home-grown Canadian films — not foreign productions such as the many Hollywood films and TV shows that are produced here — that are subject to the new proposed scrutiny:

Film director David Weaver (Century Hotel, Siblings) said yesterday that he finds it preposterous that the Department of Heritage would apply this only to Canadian producers, not to Americans or other foreign parties. “The message seems to be big-time American producers can come and produce anything they want, but [Ottawa is] going to undermine and perhaps make impossible smaller Canadian productions. It’s outrageously discriminatory.” . . .

Cameron Bailey, co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival, agreed that the exemption for foreign productions shooting in Canada “is a strange wrinkle.

“The whole thing is strange. I’m not a tax lawyer. I’m certainly not a politician. But if this is meant to close a loophole and make sure that obscene or hateful productions don’t get Canadian tax credits, it would seem you should make it universal and cover all productions, not just Canadian ones.” . . .

MacDonald also notes that, under the proposed revision to the Income Tax Act, the Canadian producers who are turned down for the tax credit that they usually get might be able to apply for another tax credit, i.e. the smaller tax credit that the foreign producers usually get. So there may be a bit of a loophole there.

Meanwhile, Jane Taber notes that the opposition Liberal party once tried to block a foreign film’s tax credit:

The Liberals acknowledged yesterday that they tried when they were in office to eliminate tax credits for offensive movies, but only to prevent a film about schoolgirl killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. . . .

Yesterday, former Liberal heritage minister Sheila Copps recalled that the Chrétien government drafted guidelines in 2003 that would prevent accreditation of a film about the couple who kidnapped, tortured and killed two Ontario schoolgirls.

“At that time, if you recall, there was quite a bit of controversy … the victims’ families went to court and got the release of the movie stopped in Canada,” Ms. Copps said. “The department came to me looking at possible scenarios of what would happen if the Paul Bernardo story was cast in Canada and was actually eligible for government tax relief.”

Ms. Copps said that the intent of the draft regulations was to catch those sorts of scenarios.

“I think that was the genesis of that clause … to catch something like the Paul Bernardo story specifically,” she said, adding that she was counting on the consultative process after the publication of the guidelines to “refine” the intent of the change.

“But it certainly wasn’t intended to be an overall vehicle for censorship,” she said.

Several versions of the guidelines were proposed after 2003, but none were adopted.

Liberal heritage critic Mauril Belanger said that his research has revealed that the guidelines would have allowed the minister of heritage to decide whether a film or television program was contrary to public policy.

A 2005 version did not include the ministerial discretion. He said yesterday he will look further into why.

The change that is causing so much controversy now would give that discretion back to the heritage minister to deny tax credits to productions determined to be contrary to public policy. . . .

Once again, as ever, make of all that what you will.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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