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FROM THE DESK OF Alain Pineau: A little of this, a little of that . . .

CCA Bulletin 33/11

December 1, 2011

Well, this week has been a little different than others. For once, I was able to put aside my primary preoccupation of the last few months – the reinvention and financial autonomy of the CCA (I will come back to that at the end of this bulletin!) – to participate in other forums where the stakes were just as important.

This started Monday morning with a half-day session on the importance and the challenges of public broadcasters. This event was organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as part of an annual meeting of the Canadian section of the International Institute of Communications that took place in Ottawa. If there is a subject that makes a lot of ink and saliva flow in the cultural sector and political circles lately, it is certainly that of the CBC. The upheaval over access to information has, it must be said, caused the CBC to lose ground on several fronts, including the At Issue panel aired on CBC’s English television. Rumours of budget cuts to the CBC are spreading, especially considering the unprecedented attacks launched by certain governmental MPs, with the eager support of Québécor Média. In this context, it was very interesting to hear the President and CEO of CBC, Hubert Lacroix, present a heartfelt, fact-based plea for the national public broadcaster. I retained three main points from his energetic speech:

  1. The more radical proposals for what to do with CBC/Radio-Canada aren’t based on fact or math and would significantly reduce Canadian content. Their impact would be felt on the whole ecological system of television production in the country;
  2. The private broadcasting sector also benefits from a high level of public funding in one way or another. Lacroix estimates that this support is more than $900 million per year; and,
  3. If we wish to have a Canadian broadcasting system, we have no choice but to financially support both private and public broadcasters financially as well as through appropriate regulation.

The conference also gave me the more dubious privilege of hearing Sun TV’s ranter emeritus, Ezra Levant, establish a link between the subsidies received by the CBC over its 75 years of existence and the national debt! (In the interest of transparency, I must confess that I worked for our national broadcaster for 34 years and that, like CBC journalist Carol Orff who was on the same panel as Mr. Levant, I understand very well the notion of public service which he seems incapable of grasping).

The National Summit for the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector

Tuesday and Wednesday, I attended a summit organized by Imagine Canada in Ottawa along with 500 participants from all corners of the country and areas of activity. This summit is the result of more than two years of work and consultations across Canada. Its goal was to mobilize the sector and to draw plans to reposition itself in Canada’s changing environment.

The meeting was a working session above all and was peppered with very interesting discussions, including the opening plenary by the Governor General, the Right Honourable David Johnston. Equally remarkable were the presentations by Allan Gregg, well-known researcher and social commentator, and Naheed Nenshi, the new mayor of Calgary, whose refreshing approach delighted the entire audience.

I was particularly impressed by the context provided by Marcel Lauzière, CEO of Imagine Canada: the correspondence between his remarks and the current situation confronting the arts and culture sector was striking in my view! Also noteworthy is the emphasis placed on arts and culture by Imagine Canada. Poet Nathanaël Larochette kicked off the event with a poem in both official languages which was received with surprise and enthusiasm by the room (he closed the summit with another poem!). There was also Emmanuelle Hébert’s captivating presentation. Hébert is co-founder of MU, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and promote public art through projects that are both artistic and social in nature, the creation of murals within and for local communities. This discussion of the community and citizen involvement through art demonstrates the important and often overlooked role occupied by arts organizations in the nonprofit community, where they are rare but often have charity status. There are more avenues to be explored in that direction. . .

Téléfilm Canada’s Annual Report

Téléfilm Canada presented its annual report on November 23rd and announced new success criteria for Canadian films, a turning point in my opinion in the evaluation of public investments in this important cultural sector. The commercial criteria of box office receipts and gross sales will make up 60% of the calculation, while the number of international film festival selections and prizes will represent 30%. Lastly, the industry report that establishes the ratio of private funding versus public funding will amount to 10%.

I have always found the sole criteria of box office receipts simplistic and unfair. We produce excellent films that don’t necessarily attract big audiences – in part because we do not control the distribution networks and we don’t have, particularly in English Canada, a star system or adequate marketing budgets. However, our filmmakers are appreciated by festivalgoers worldwide and contribute to Canada’s reputation as a creative nation. In this regard, Téléfilm means to put more emphasis on marketing. So I can only congratulate Téléfilm for this reality check!

Some interesting statistics pulled from the Téléfilm report:

  • 53 out of 92 Canadian films released in 2010 were financed by Téléfilm Canada;
  • Canadian films were awarded 127 prizes last year;  and,
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Bon Cop Bad Cop are the Canadian flims most purchased on DVD.

A word on intellectual property (yes!)

We don’t often provide updates on the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). But now the copyright treaties in negotiations for several years are at a crucial phase.  WIPO is currently examining two very important questions for the Canadian cultural sector: the protection of audiovisual productions and the protection of broadcasters. Meetings in Geneva this week aimed at preparing the next summit on the audiovisual treaty. In 2000, treaty discussions reinforcing the rights of performers made significant advances. A provisional agreement was reached on 19 out of 20 articles: the only unresolved issue was whether or not the treaty should govern the transfer of rights. This spanner in the works led to the suspension of the diplomatic conference. In June 2011, the member states agreed upon a compromise text, thereby opening the path to finishing the treaty. The diplomatic conference will be convened in 2012. CCA’s performer members have been waiting for this moment for a long time!

In conclusion, where are things at the CCA?

I must thank the forty or so members who participated in November’s consultations in Montreal and Toronto. The validation process that will lead to a new business model for the CCA is progressing well. Another consultation session will take place December 7th in Ottawa. Then, after the holiday break that, I must confess, will be most welcome, I will hit the road. I leave January 8th for a cross-country tour that will take me to 13 towns before the end of February. We will publish my itinerary next week. Please take a look to see when I will be in your area and  mark the date in your agenda. Your opinion and your particular interests are crucial to the development of our action plan.