♦ While most of the nation is rejoicing in Netflix’s recent commitment to invest $500 million into Canadian-made content over the next five years, some of Quebec’s industry leaders are feeling the familiar chill of exclusion. The Netflix deal, which has so far been the most prominent item on Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s so-called ‘cultural policy overhaul’ agenda, quickly raised concerns among French Canadians for its lack of dedication of funds for Francophone content. As it stands now, Netflix Canada’s library offers fewer than a dozen French titles (many of which are language dubs of American productions) and while there is a small handful of Quebecois programming available if you really dig for it, it hardly seems like a fair representation when you consider that Canada is home to the largest population of French-speaking citizens outside of France itself. The five-year plan has also drawn criticism for its lack of taxation and for its ambiguity in terms of what qualifies as “Canadian” content — and, despite the economic benefits, no one’s digital cultural footprint is more threatened by American productions dominating film activity north of the border than Quebec’s. Specific details on how the federal government intends to allocate the Netflix funds are still unknown.
♦ Trois-Rivières-raised director Denis Villeneuve is Canada’s hottest Hollywood export at the moment thanks to the success of Blade Runner 2049, the feverishly anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi cult favourite. Villeneuve is no stranger to the Hollywood scene — he has turned out five critically-acclaimed films in five years, most notably last year’s Arrival, which netted 8 Oscar nominations including Best Director and Best Picture — and now 2049 is poised to catapult him into household-name status. So, what’s next for the quiet Quebec charmer? Fans are already freaking out over his confirmed involvement in the upcoming remake of Dune, with many counting on him to do the original story more justice than the famously-hated 1984 David Lynch adaptation. He also named a 007 instalment and a reimagining of Cleopatra as future dream projects, when asked by CBC News what the future holds. One thing we know for certain: his first order of business is taking a much-needed break!
♦ Last November, federal funding agency Telefilm Canada pledged to work towards closing the gender gap in Canadian film by placing a priority on funding projects of merit submitted by female writers, producers and directors. Little did Executive Director Carolle Brabant know how quickly her vision of gender equity would start to come to fruition. Reportedly, just over half of the 60-plus films Telefilm has agreed to fund so far this year are attached to female producers, while 44 percent are directed by women, up from a paltry 17 percent reported in 2015 (based on figures from 2013-2014). Brabant says that the rise in numbers across the board has a lot to do with more female filmmakers applying for grants than ever before — perhaps emboldened by the improved odds of being taken seriously — but also gave due credit to Canada’s major industry players for embracing a progressive mindset. Members from both the Directors Guild of Canada and the Writers Guild of Canada, along with reps from fellow Quebec-based outfits SODEC, RÉALS Québec and Réalisatrices équitables, have met with Telefilm in recent months to discuss gender parity initiatives, and it seems like all parties are on the same page and ready to move forward. Telefilm also recently committed to increased funding for projects by First Nations filmmakers, whose issues of underrepresentation in film are often intersectional with women’s.
♦ Actor, screenwriter and filmmaker Robin Aubert has found a uniquely entertaining platform to express his thoughts on Quebec’s cultural identity crisis: a zombie apocalypse film. Les affamés (The Ravenous) is now playing in Quebec cinemas, fresh off a successful turn in the fall film festival circuit (the arthouse horror proved to be a worthy contender, taking top prize for Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF followed by an audience award at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma last month). Purported to be Quebec’s first big zombie feature, Les affamés seems, at first, gripping but fairly formulaic as far as the genre goes, but it doesn’t take long to see the parallels drawn between the film’s horde of all-consuming undead and the irresistible, invasive nature of Anglophone culture that threatens the province’s traditional values in real life. Other elements of the story, like an accordion lugged around on one survivor’s back, serve as metaphors for the resilience of those who fight to preserve Quebec’s identity, knowing full-well it would be much easier to simply cave to change. Aubert succeeds in offering a nuanced perspective on very real national issues without coming off petty or preachy. The end result is a well-made, well-acted and very enjoyable film.
♦ The 23rd annual Cinemania Film Festival began last week in Montreal, screening a selection of outstanding French-language films from around the world (with English subtitles, to cater to the ‘unofficially bilingual’ city’s diverse audience). This year’s festivities will include a very special ceremony on November 7, during which founding president Maidy Teitelbaum will be honoured with an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres designation, which is one of three degrees of an Order of Merit in France awarded to individuals for ‘significant contribution to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance’. Teitelbaum, a unique recipient of the esteemed title given that French is not her first language, was also named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006 — two out of three ain’t bad (in fact, ç’est merveilleux)! Cinemania runs through to Sunday, November 12 (click here to view the 2017 programme).
By Miranda Cross