One of the first pieces I had posted on Huffington Post Canada was commenting on a proposal for an ill-fated TV specialty channel -- Starlight -- dedicated to showing only Canadian movies.
However the idea of putting Canadian movies out there in front of people I fully support. One of the biggest problems facing Canadian movies since the beginning has been distribution. Theatres either refuse to show the movies, or show them for only limited runs because they want the screens for the Hollywood movies that are their bread and butter.
Now there's a new streaming website called Canada Screens (canadascreens.ca). I don't know if this is a brand new initiative or whether it sprung, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of the Starlight Channel (I'm guessing the latter).
The advantage to online shopping is things are available regardless of your geography. But the downside is you need to know something exists in order to find it. Now I don't want to simply plug a website (I'm not here to shill for anyone) but I do think it's worth drawing attention to.
What's the point of a Canadian movie website? After all, most of these films are available in regular venues. Arguably it helps draw attention to them by putting them under one roof (including catchy trailers). You know what I said about needing to know something exists? Even though these films can be found often at iTunes and Amazon and what have you, they can get lost in the shuffle -- undiscovered unless you know what titles to search for.
It's taking advantage of the online world to provide Canadian movies wherever you are. Its catalogue growing exponentially (they've added movies just in the couple of days I've been looking at the site).
One of their gimmicks is "curators" -- celebrities from both behind and before the camera who offer recommended viewing lists. Curators include the likes of Robert Lantos, Sarah Polley, Atom Egoyan, and Sarah Gadon -- which, admittedly, can seem like a Canadian film cabal. I can't help picturing that quartet getting together under the full moon, drinking fermented maple syrup from the boiled skulls of beavers, and deciding the fates and fortunes of aspiring Canadian filmmakers (or is that just me?). But the curators also include a more eclectic gang such as Jason Priestley, Zoie Palmer, Paul Gross and Tatiana Maslany.
As I say: the important thing in Canadian film is making the movies accessible. It's hard to have meaningful discussions about Canadian films if the audience doesn't even have an opportunity to accept -- or reject -- them in the first place.
I might quibble a bit, though -- told ya I'm not just here to shill. (And I should point out I have no insider knowledge, nor have I tried using the site, yet -- I've seen a good two thirds of the available movies before).
The rental fee is usually between $4.99 to $5.99 -- comparable to similar services like iTunes. But there is the question whether the goal is simply to make these films accessible to those who want them -- or whether it's to try and win over a whole new audience, an audience possibly skeptical about Canadian movies. Obviously the producers want to earn money, but I wonder if maybe a cheaper introductory price might provide an incentive. Or maybe even offer a limited number of free views (like the way some newspapers allow you to read a given number of on-line articles for free, then charge for the rest -- the hope being the free samples will persuade you it's worth paying for). Admittedly, that's because I tend to think in terms of the overall industry. It's not just enough that a viewer likes a particular Canadian film -- but that they are open to Canadian film as an oeuvre.
At the moment it's a finite selection (broken into categories like "comedy," "drama," etc. -- though separate categories for "action" and "adventure" is maybe nitpicking). Hopefully it will expand and become more diverse and inclusive in the types of films offered -- and even the curators themselves (who, at this point, are mostly white and mainly -- though not exclusively -- Anglophones). It would also be good if they expanded their catalogue to include TV movies, even TV series.
Heck -- would I be stretching too far to suggest they could, in time, add a Canadian radio drama section?
Given that one of my pet peeves is the notion of "Canadian identity" in Canadian film, it's problematic that (at the time I looked) two of the films being promoted at the top of the main page are Map to The Stars (a movie set in California featuring a mostly non-Canadian cast) and Super Duper Alice Cooper (a documentary about the iconic American performance artist/rock star). Oh, Canada -- indeed.
Ideally every Canadian should bookmark the site and at least peruse its catalogue to see if anything interests you (and come back in a couple of months, assuming it grows).
Canadian film has to brace itself for the same Darwinian forces of survival of the fittest as any other film industry. The very lack of publicity and distribution has been a two-edged sword. It has kept Canadian films from achieving much success, yet equally it provides a convenient excuse for filmmakers to justify their lack of popularity ("I didn't make a bad film -- the audience just never got to see it!").
But if Canada Screens can get enough people aware of the site and what it offers, maybe more Canadians can become involved in discussions of what are the "good" and the "bad" films in Canada.
Looking at the current offerings, I might toss in plugs for Starbuck (comedy), Citizen Gangster (period crime drama), Gunless (western comedy), The Trotsky (comedy), Suck (black comedy musical fantasy Faustian parable -- no, really, it's all those things!)