Robert Lantos, revered Canadian film producer, loves a good movie. Or, to be more specific, he loves a good Canadian movie. It's a cinematic affection we share; during six years on Canadian soil we've attended a half-dozen Toronto International Film Festivals; four as ticket buying guests, and two from the other side of the red carpet as special correspondents for Citytv. An engagement we relish, the opportunity provides unique insight into the movie industry's impact in Canada in terms of public awareness, job creation and, crucially, as a platform for compelling, innovative film.
Meeting Lantos for the first time at the 2007 premiere of David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (a hard hitting drama Lantos produced) we were struck by his passion and his desire to make movies with heart, global reach and commercial success. This in mind, it comes as no surprise to observe his latest passion, the creation of Starlight, a television channel that proposes to bring Canadian cinema directly into the homes of Canadians.
The exciting prospect seems particularly appropriate in Canada, a nation traditionally proud and supportive of its own output. The majority of our Canuck pals, for example, in an endeavor to galvanise the local economy, favour local produce. Our gang will happily drink good local wine while chowing down on meat reared in Canadian farms. They'll support local musicians, vacation across the country's beautiful landscape and invest, wherever possible, in Canadian manufacture. It was this sense of national worth, if we're honest, that first attracted us to Canada... and to Canadian spirit in general. It reminds us of Scotland and the proud Gallic heart beat we so desperately miss when toiling this side of the pond.
This profound sense of nationalism in mind, it seems only logical to embrace a channel like Starlight -- especially when a primary goal is to expose Canadian film to a greater audience -- thereby boosting the movie industry to create more films. And of course this, in turn, would provide an outlet (and an income) for fledgling home grown filmmakers.
Chatting with Lantos in the Summerhill offices of Serendipity Point, his production company, the enormity of his ambition for Starlight is apparent. During a long, varied career he has presided over 30 feature films; from 1978's In Praise of Older Women, to Golden Globe nominated and Academy Award nominated films Being Julia and Eastern Promises. His most recent, the Golden Globe/Genie Winner and Academy Award nominated Barney's Version drew critical acclaim and his new movie, The Right Kind Of Wrong with Ryan Kwanten (due for release later this year) looks sure to catch the attentions of a large audience, not least due to its star's role on True Blood. Any way you cut it, Lantos seems the perfect person to champion this next chapter in Canadian cinema. C'mon, the guy produced the domestic box office phenomenon Men With Brooms and its success speaks volumes of his vision...
"Canadian Cinema", explains Lantos, "performs really well on the world stage. In the past ten years, nine of our feature films, in addition to an army of shorts and documentaries, have been nominated for Academy Awards. Only the UK, outside of Hollywood, has had such consistent success." Pausing for a moment to divert a call that rings into his office, he continues; "As a nation, we've won Golden Globes, the Grand Prix in Cannes, the audience award in Venice. All of this, of course, is backed up internationally by an indisputable appetite for Canadian film; our output is widely distributed in theatres and on the small screen worldwide."
Enthusiastically, Lantos extrapolates; "The missing link, however, is strength in the domestic market, which is where national cinema in other countries, rules. In Spain, Italy, France and the UK, for example, the networks consistently play domestic films in prime time and, what's more, they co-finance them. But in Canada, theatrical features sometimes feel like the orphans of the broadcast system."
Starlight, its ambassador explains, would change all that by providing a permanent destination for Canadian films and, by investing 70 per cent of its gross revenues in financing and licensing, it would derive significant funding for features from the multi-billion dollar broadcasting, cable and satellite industry. And the cost to consumers? "The average Canadian cable or satellite bill is around $65 per month and, to include Starlight, that would increase by just one dollar." It seems a small price, certainly, and, as Lantos sees it, the investment will buoy the industry while providing films with which viewers can connect on a local level.
But of course as much as viewers will benefit, so too will emerging talent, both sides of the camera, though it should be noted that none of the filmmakers associated with ownership of the channel will directly access its funding. Lantos explains; "Starlight will be weighted in favour of young, emerging talent; those who traditionally have difficulty accessing finance and have to leave for destinations like Hollywood where there's much more money."
With a range of supporters and backers that reads like a who's who of Canada's film industry (Victor Loewy, former CEO of Alliance Films, Academy Award winning director Denys Arcand -- The Barbarian Invasions -- double Oscar nominated director and screenwriter Atom Egoyan -- The Sweet Hereafter -- TV star Paul Gross -- Due South, Slings and Arrows -- and David Cronenberg -- A History of Violence -- to name but a few) it seems the desire is certainly there to bring domestic cinema to the masses, thereby fortifying an already important industry.
Next step? The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will hear arguments in late April on whether to grant mandatory carriage to Starlight. If the application is successful, domestic cinema will find a new place in the homes of movie lovers, cross Canada, and the opportunity for home grown talent will burgeon. It's little wonder, then, that Lantos is so enthusiastic. As we pack away our Dictaphone and prepare to dash to our next meeting, the eminent producer concludes; "I simply want what's best for the industry. To help safeguard the future of Canadian film."
Whether or not the axiom "cinema is the new hockey" becomes part of Canadian parlance, one thing's absolutely certain; should Starlight get its green light, we know where we'll be spending an extra dollar at the start of every month...
For more on The Canadian Movie Channel.
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