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The Case for a Canadian Film Channel

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Let's start with an experiment. Take 10 seconds to write down as many Canadian films as you can. Ok, so how many did you come up with? "Not many" is the answer I received when asking the question to random folks.

Films like Porky's, Meatballs and the recent successes of titles like Bon Cop, Bad Cop and Sarah Polley's Away from Her are mentioned occassionally, but only after prompts, clues and suggestions.

As we lead up to celebrating our nation's 150th year in 2017, we have a problem. Canadians as a whole are not aware of their own home grown films and the filmmakers that make them. Some say it is about access, others say there is no way Canadian films can compete against the mammoth marketing of our US & interntational counterparts. Canadian films are being made, but in most years, ones made in English account for only 2 to 2.7 per cent of the total domestic theatrical box office. That is not a typo. French (ones made in Quebec) language films fare much better, but that's a whole other conversation.

Enter Starlight:The Canadian Movie Channel, which aims to solve this once and for all. With some of Canada's most prominent film personalities behind this including Robert Lantos, David Cronenberg, Paul Gross, and Atom Egoyan, one has to assume that this is real and should be considered seriously. Some say it is a great example of "film business" and "film creative" coming together to create.

Here is what it is.

Starlight is a new specialty television channel that will be entirely devoted to Canadian movies, particularly feature films intended for theatrical release. The program schedule for the channel will be 100% Canadian, consisting of Canadian feature films, Canadian feature documentaries, Canadian made-for-TV movies, and programs with or about Canadian filmmakers. All feature films intended for theatrical distribution will be presented without commercial interruption.

Here are the fast facts.

24/7 access to Canadian films -- While it has been said that there are 10,000 hours already of Canadian films on television, there is not currently "one stop" to bring it all together. Side note: there have been 3,000 Canadian films made in English and French since 1960.

Part of existing cable packages -- They say this will cost consumers about three cents a day, which is about the cost of two movie rentals over a year.

Multi platform access -- Would be available on computer screens, iPads and mobile devices, on demand, at no extra charge to subscribers.

Curated schedule -- Tier one programmers scheduling and bundling content to offer diversity and selection for viewers. They say Canadians will be able to see 700 different films per year.

70% of revenue will go into funding Canadian films -- They will create the Starlight Feature Film Fund resulting in 8 to 12 Canadian features per year equating to an investment of $22 million annually. Commitment to regional representation in terms of projects chosen.

Bricks and mortar key piece - Commitment to community investment via events and appearances with talent throughout each year bringing the viewing experience and context of the content to another more authentic level.

So why does this make sense?

The case for generation after generation understanding who we are as Canadians -- Many feel that film is a significant portion of the cultural legacy of our country and there is a struggle to make Canadians aware of their own film culture. Without us learning about ourselves through an outlet like film, a void exists that cannot be filled.

Canadian films are orphans -- They get lost in the traditional schedules.

We are worthy of our own channel -- In a past piece, the idea of being worthy was brought up. Nothing could say "we are worthy" like having our own film channel devoted to telling stories made by Canadians to make our own stand up and take notice. This could assist to break the cycle of our films at times being more appreciated and recognized internationally then here at home.

Commitment to marketing that makes people take notice -- We have all seen at various times Canadian films being marketed with minimal budgets. In the end, they get lost, and small numbers see them. Their seems to be a commitment from Starlight to release films they invest in theatrically with a "bona fide" effort, which one would think would translate to how they would market the channel as a whole. Consumers need to be engaged, excited, and made to feel something is "big" for them to take notice. They want to jump on the bandwagon of a "winner".

Canada is about being multicultural and films show that -- All one has to look at is the nominations of the recent Canadian Screen Awards to see the nationalties featured in stories being told by in many cases first generation Canadians. Our Canada is not just about being English or French. A channel devoted to showing the past, current and future Canadian experience is key.

What are some recos?

Give consumers choice -- A sticky issue has been whether Canadians should be given choice to "opt in" or "opt out" of having this channel. Some have suggested a 6 month/1 year trial for consumers with a opportunity to make a choice to keep the channel or not. Some have suggested first month is free. Don't have the answer, but the last thing consumers should be feeling like is that this is being forced on them. Yes, it has been said to be less then renting two movies in a year, but consumers should be included in the decision of what they pay for. Some ideas of how to do this below.

Make average Canadians part of the answer -- Believe creating some sort of "crowd fund" mechanism where Canadians can truly be part of this journey as an "investor with benefits" is something to explore. If Starlight is truly doing this for "Canada" and "our legacy", the average Canadian should have the opportunity to participate. Otherwise, it will stil be about "them" telling "us" we need this.

Young Canadian film personalties report for duty -- Similar feedback was given to the Canadian Screen Awards. This concept would resonate with more Canadians if they saw folks like Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Jason Reitman, Michael Cera, and Jay Baruchel lending their name to this. The cycle needs to be broken here and in discussions with many, a key factor is a representation of the "future" of our country along with the personalities of the "now" and the "then." A history is created with all stakeholders involved to truly represent a people and a nation.

Films funded to represent emerging and established talent -- In a world where building the Canadian star system is of utmost importance, there needs to be a commitment that each film infuses a combination of established and emerging talents working on the same projects. The benefits of this should be obvious.

Make the channel free for a year for new immigrants -- With all the great work that the Institute for Canadian Citizenship is doing, how about adding in gratis access to the channel for new immigrants to Canada.

Diverse schedule offering -- Whether if it's programming like "The Best Canadian Films Made for Under $500k", investment in original programming like Canada's take on "Inside the Actor's Studio", or audience awards leading to programming decisions, innovative ways to excite and engage audiences is key to why Canadians will care about this channel.

International access -- Not sure how this is being addressed, but access to this channel internationally is key for Canadians living abroad to be able to share their culture, as well as international citizens being exposed to our work.

Take the channel on the road -- Very key for Starlight to partner with national organizations and festivals to create "bricks and mortar" type experiences for Canadians to have that "look, touch and feel" lasting impact. This of course includes infusing programming into grade school curriculum as well.

What is happening now?

The Starlight team has just presented to the CRTC last Thursday and they hope is that a decision would come sometime this summer. If granted acceptance, the new channel could be up and running in 8 months time.

What you can do?

According to Mark Musselman, an investor in Starlight, and an Executive Producer of Canadian feature films such as Barney's Version, Being Julia, Fugitive Pieces, Men With Brooms, and The Statement, Canadians can still add to the conversation.

Going forward, supporters of Starlight are always free to register their support via letters, emails and faxes to the Canadian Minister of Heritage or to other Canadian Members of Parliament, Ministers and government departments.

Heritage Minister James Moore's email is here.

You can also follow Starlight on Twitter and Facebook here to be updated on where this will go.

So this model is not perfect. There are suggestions that many have made to me in the process of researching all sides of why this channel makes sense or not. If the channel is approved by the CRTC, I believe I speak for many in saying that it should be conditional based on the discussion of above and the execution of a lot of what has been suggested. If this is to be a channel for our country and about our country, the very decisions made should be inclusively of the citizens who want to participate. Each and every Canadian should have their voice heard on an ongoing basis. Open, transparent, involving dialogue should ensue. This must be a pre-requisite. If this is not the case, this will once again be a seen as a concept conceived by a chosen few that represents said chosen few. That can't happen.

There is a golden gem of an idea here, and as our nation looks further to define itself as to what it means to be Canadian, Starlight could assist in this process. I say we collectively help them get there. There will be bumps in the road, but if this is for us, if this is about ensuring our Canadian cultural identity is solidified for generations to come, I say we go for it.

I was recently very inspired at a roundtable discussion at CBC discussing some ideas to celebrate Canada's 150th in 2017. A wise beyond his years movement creator Che Kothari at Manifesto shared a quote which is a fitting way to close this piece.

Let's make it simple for Canadians to bring their ideas to life.

The philisophical and functional case for Canada to have it's own film channel is sound. So if you have suggestions to help make this idea happen, or ways it can be successful, please do share them. But let's not block this group to prevent them to achieve the end goal.

Our films and our stories deserve an audience. Forever.