We like Canadians, right? It seems easy, with all of the indie film and micro-distributing talk going on in the USA, to forget about the independent film business in Canada. When I was there this weekend, I spent some time chatting with Ron Mann and his guys at Sphinx Productions. Most people in the US probably don’t know that Ron and company have created their own distribution outfit and called it “Films We Like.” It’s a valiant effort, considering that what many would consider a rather modest box office total for an American-made studio film (say, $3 million) is actually considered a massive success by Canadian standards.
In other words, theatrical distribution can be an even tougher business in the Great White North than it is in the States. If American-made blockbusters have a tough time selling, then no doubt exhibitors are scared by unproven Canadian filmmakers.
The point is, companies like Films We Like need to be promoted, supported, and explored by audiences all over North America. Between Ron and his crew, and outfits like Mongrel Media, there isn’t much of an independent distribution business in Canadian theaters. For example, America’s idea of “mini-majors” (companies like Lions Gate and ThinkFilm) actually have operations in Canada that are fairly major in comparison with Films We Like.
This seems especially pertinent to American indie film fans because, without successful distribution outlets for indie Canadians, we would never have discovered people like Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Ron Mann, Guy Maddin, Molly Parker, Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, Katherine Isabelle, or a dozen other notables that have been able to crossover and do incredible work stateside.
The solution? I would suggest an American open mind about what’s going on in the Canadian film scene. People sometimes joke that Canada seems as if time stands still. In an independent film business sense, it kind of does, in the way that it’s one of the last frontiers. Even new Canadian films have a certain beauty reminiscent of American arthouse pioneers like Sayles, Jarmusch, and Hartley. This happns because independent filmmaking in Canada is still fairly untouched by big studio, corporate politics. In other words, if American audiences ever yearn for the independent filmmaking of 15 years ago, it’s living in Canada. Let’s try and maintain that, but still find a way to keep it alive.