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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's film and television industry is screaming censorship over a government plan to cut tax credits for productions with graphic scenes of sex and violence, warning the plan could water down edgy Canadian films.
In a last-ditch attempt to dilute a government income tax bill, the film industry says tougher Canadian tax rules could be a death blow to a sector already struggling to cope with a stronger Canadian dollar.
"It flies in the face of what we should be looking towards as a civilized nation in terms of supporting our artists, supporting unique visions, making films that challenge, that provoke, that create discussion," Oscar-nominated Sarah Polley, director of "Away from Her," told Reuters at Monday night's Genie Awards, Canada's equivalent to the Oscars.
"Sex and violence are a part of the world we live in and so they will be represented by artists. That's the job of an artist, to talk about the world they live in. So, it's terrifying and I just hope that the outcry will be loud enough and persistent enough that it will go away forever."
But the Conservative government, which included the film tax provisions in an omnibus income tax bill, says it is just trying to close a loophole that might have allowed funding for films that break the law.
"We are far from censorship here," Heritage Minister Josee Verner told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, arguing that the changes will affect "a small number" of the 1,000 productions that receive tax credits annually.
"We will take fiscal measures to make sure the Canadian taxpayers' money won't fund extreme violence (and) child pornography."
Canada has long been a popular place for filmmakers looking to save a few bucks, with Toronto standing in for Chicago in the Oscar-winning musical of that name, and Alberta taking the role of Wyoming role in gay cowboy film "Brokeback Mountain."
But Cameron Bailey, co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival, said the bill could send a "real chill" over the film industry.
"We had a film called 'Young People F***ing' at our festival last year, and the film is by no means counter to any existing laws in terms of sex or representing sex or pornography," Bailey said.
"But the title itself could be a red flag... Once we give too much power to government agencies to determine the content of films, then sometimes people can go a little too far."
He added: "We want to protect audacity in Canadian film and we don't support any threats to the freedom Canadians have right now to be as audacious as they need to be in the movies they make."
Critics of the bill have formed a group on facebook.com which has drawn nearly 20,000 members in five days (here).