From an American perspective, the big Canadian story of the last decade has been, of course, the flight of American productions headed there to take advantage of favorable tax incentives. But there are some other very interesting things happening there, too, as the Canadian film industry tries to expand its reach in terms of both content and financial influence. I spoke with Toronto native and NYU Grad-Film Alum Ian Harnarine about Doubles with Slight Pepper, the feature film he is developing within the Canadian system. Doubles With Slight Pepper is a feature expansion of Ian’s short film by the same name, which won Best Short Film at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011 and also won the 2012 Genie Award for Best Short Film from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and TV (Canadian Oscars). For the feature, Ian has teamed up with Producer Christina Piovesan (Amreeka, The Whistleblower). They are seeking funding from Telefilm Canada (TeleFilm is the more commercial, feature-film-oriented of the two Canadian national film agencies; the National Film Board has been a leader in funding animated films and also focuses on documentaries).
Telefilm historically organized its Production Program funds into distinct groups, one for French language films and one for English language films, as well as separating funds into lower- and higher- budget level categories. In a recent effort to streamline the process, Telefilm consolidated these into one major production program. (Micro-budget films will still fall into a separate category). While English-speaking Canadian films are generally overshadowed by American movies, Francophone Canada maintains a relatively high degree of prestige and audience support, with critical and financial success on the world stage. Telefilm’s current mission statement describes an increased focus on promoting Canadian content in both English and French, as well as aboriginal languages.
Telefilm-financed movies with Canadian producers but shot primarily outside of Canada have found great success of late -- notably Incendies (Jordan) and War Witch (Congo), both Oscar Nominees. About 20% of Doubles with Slight Pepper will be shot in Trinidad and Tobago, where Ian Harnarine’s parents are from. (The short version was shot entirely on the island of Trinidad, and received a post-production grant from the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, the national film agency).
While Canada has Co-Production treaties with over fifty countries, Trinidad and Tobago is not one of them. Still, the cross-cultural subject matter of Ian’s film – a young man’s dilemma over whether to reconnect with his terminally ill, estranged father – could bring an interesting dynamic to the English-language Canadian landscape if it finds funding at some level within the Canadian system.
Canada’s film industry presents government funding at federal, provincial, and state levels. Telefilm can offer up to 49% of eligible Canadian production costs as either an equity investment or a recoupable advance. If Telefilm comes on board for Doubles with Slight Pepper, Ian and his team plan to seek the rest from Ontario provincial funds and from private investment.
I’ve met with a number of first-time filmmakers from outside the U.S. who have chosen to make their films inexpensively and quickly in the U.S. rather than deal with the (sometimes slow) bureaucracies of their home countries’ film industries. With traction and momentum that Ian has going in Canada, and what will hopefully prove to be a smooth process with Telefilm Canada, shooting the feature of Doubles in his native Toronto could be a great homecoming.