Several representatives from Canada came this Thursday to paint a portrait of the country in terms of heritage, showing a nation divided between French-speaking Quebec and English-speaking Canada, which are only too willing to work together.
Around the table, led by Tom McSorley, Executive Director of the Canadian Film Institute, were Dominique Dugas, Executive Director of Éléphant : mémoire du cinéma québécois, Ron Mann, Director of Films We Like, Nicolas Dulac, Head of Access, Promotion and Collection Development at the Cinémathèque québécoise, Nathalie Bourdon, Director of Distribution and Market Development at the National Film Board of Canada, and Marie-Claude Giroux, Telefilm Canada's Advisor on Partnerships and Business Development.
"So far from God, but so close to the United States". With these words, borrowed from Porfirio Diaz, former president of Mexico, Tom McSorley began the panel discussion with a sense of humor, recalling Canada's complicated position, both geographically and culturally. After pointing out that the history of Acadian cinema is somewhat eccentric, the Executive Director of the Canadian Film Institute opened the floor for introductions.
First, Dominique Dugas presented Eléphant, mémoire du cinéma québécois, which is digitizing, restoring and gradually making available all of Quebec's feature films. This initiative was born of a philanthropic desire on the part of Québécor. The Eléphant website is particularly precise on its missions and you can consult it by clicking here.
The director Ron Mann then took the floor. He began in the 1980s as a documentary filmmaker at the edge of the experimental, supported by the American filmmaker Emile de Antonio. It is through documentary, which he practiced in particular by filming the North American counterculture, that the man understood the importance of preserving images to keep a trace of the history of the world. This is how he became an archivist, creating a "tax receipt" (at 20%) that acts as an incentive for producers and filmmakers to deposit their works with collection institutes. Along with his filmmaker friends from around the world, he also realized that some, perhaps more niche, films were having trouble finding distribution in Canada and so he became a distributor by creating his company Films We Like. In 2010, he and Ivan Reitman also restored one of Reitman's first films, Cannibal Girls. Then together, they had the idea of re-releasing it in an eventful way, a successful initiative that gave him the desire to restore and re-release more films. A dozen films are currently being restored.
Following him, Nicolas Dulac recalled that the Cinémathèque québécoise was a private non-profit organization created in 1963 and whose specialty is, in particular, animation. The Cinémathèque also includes many documentaries, objects and other film sets, but it also acts as a library with more than 45,000 titles, books and magazines, as well as nearly 30,000 television archives. The Cinémathèque québécoise is also the recipient of the legal deposit and must catalogue and index the works produced with the help of the Quebec government. As for restorations, the Cinémathèque claims that it has never really had a budget for them and is at the origin of a few one-time restorations of very old films that were thought to have disappeared. Recently, new grants have appeared for heritage and a digital cultural plan aims to finance restoration projects up to 500 000 Canadian dollars. The Cinematheque's desire is to emphasize militant, feminist and independent animated films in order to discover these little-known films. However, the problem of the commercial exploitation of these restorations arises and according to Nicolas Dulac, the idea will be to rely mainly on their theaters, festivals and institutions to distribute them.
As shown by Nathalie Bourdon, this round table is proof of the fragmentation of Canadian structures around heritage but also of its smallness since, according to her, "it is a village", each of the panelists having worked with the others recently. She also insisted on the necessity of streaming, which is becoming a powerful way to disseminate heritage to the greatest number of people. This was also corroborated by Marie-Claude Giroux of Telefilm Canada, the Acadian counterpart of the CNC and UniFrance. Moreover, for Canada's 150th anniversary, and Telefilm Canada's 50th anniversary, the latter put online 150 Canadian films that they helped restore. Since 2019, the company is investing between 100,000 and 500,000 Canadian dollars in restorations and digitization of local heritage works. For this, they are partly associated with Elephant but would like to develop and formalize a clearer support program for the digitization and restoration of films.
This was the main desire that emerged from the roundtable. Collectively, the panelists realized that English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Quebec represented two solitudes that lived side by side without exchanging their know-how: restoration and preservation for Quebec, distribution and access for the rest of Canada. This problem is also due to the absence of precise registers that would regroup both the works already restored and those that each one possesses, and that would allow a follow-up of rights. At the same time, they confirmed that Canada's desire to support novelty at the expense of preservation and heritage. From this lack of cohesion between public and private actors, provincial and federal levels and linguistic differences, the panelists agreed to create a coalition to speak with one voice. And perhaps, who knows, allow the sector to become more structured and obtain more funds for a better future of heritage.
An ambition shared by Philippe Chemassu, the main distributor of Spanish cinema in France. Wishing to bring to France "the insolence, the indiscipline and the turbulent side" of this filmography, he is delighted to propose a cinema sometimes put aside by the French cinemas, outside the film libraries, and to present a new look on this country and its contemporary cinematographic productions by means of directors never seen in France.
The discussion then turned to several questions, including that of the budgets allocated to classical film actors in Spain. Budgets that tend to evolve, with the arrival of a new law recognizing classical cinema as a heritage, and therefore entering the funds allocated to heritage. Because where the CNC lavishes in France nearly 70 million € for the restoration, in Spain the aids are of less than one million euros explains Joxean Fernández. A very small budget compared to the increase in the price of electricity in Spain. For Sophie Mac Mahon, the lack of funds is "a real deficiency, which shows that cinema is not considered necessary”. And if the entry of the cinema in the national heritage is acted by the law, it is already a first step. The next step is to accompany the theaters in the distribution of classical cinema. An idea supported by Diana Santamaría, who reminds us that the country's distribution aids do not concern heritage works, resulting in a refusal by commercial cinemas to exploit such works. While France sees its arthouse cinemas programming heritage films thanks to the support of Afcae, for the distributor Spain should propose an equivalent classification for its cinemas and not limit them to commercial films. "Cinemas are closing every day" adds Sophie Mac Mahon.
Concerning the Iberian audience of heritage films, the results are positive. For example, Sophie Mac Mahon details the data collected by FlixOlé, which shows that its audience is young, between 30 and 35 years old, and is interested in classical cinema. Joan Castelló's audience is also getting younger, as the new generation is interested in the past, and is even building up an opposition to contemporary films. For Pilar Toro, the question is not whether the public wants to see old films, but rather how to make the public want to. The question of promotion seems essential to her: she cites for example the editorial work done around The Mother and the Whore this year.
Finally, all agree on the question of the Spanish cinematographic identity, which still needs to be developed. "How can we release films that are completely unknown to the general public", asks Philippe Chevassu. "Spain is sick of not having admired its artists enough" concludes Joxean Fernández.
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