May 20, 2008 / 12:19 PM / 10 years ago

Canadian filmmakers look overseas for financing

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - The term “Canadian film” has never been more widely applied.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (3rd L) poses with cast members Danny Glover (L-R), an unidentified woman, Yusuke Iseya, Alice Braga, Julianne Moore, Don McKellar, Gael Garcia Bernal and Yoshino Kimura for the screening of his film entry "Blindness" on the opening night of the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 14, 2008 REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Last year’s “Eastern Promises,” David Cronenberg’s Oscar-nominated portrait of the Russian mafia in London, was shot and mostly financed in Britain. Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles’ “Blindness,” which opened the Cannes Film Festival last week, was structured as a Canada-Brazil-Japan co-venture. And Canadian director Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice,” staring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, was largely financed by French producer Gaumont.

But high-profile projects aren’t the only dual-passport Canuck films to cast international actors or choose foreign locations and non-Canadian story lines.

Indeed, as government financing for Canadian films gets tight at home, local producers are increasingly spanning the globe in search of much-needed foreign financing dollars to keep their projects afloat.

“Once you get to a certain level of budget — $5 million-$7 million — unless you’re a David Cronenberg or a Denys Arcand, with a strong background or star power, it will be difficult to find entirely in Canada the financing you require,” says Danny Chalifour, director of international development and operations at Telefilm Canada, the federal government’s film financier.

He adds that homegrown directors intent on big-budget films with marquee international stars will need to pre-sell rights to a U.S. producer or bring aboard an international partner.

Canadian producers are used to making films with foreign partners since Canada has official co-production treaties with over 50 countries. But as they go global for added dollars, major homegrown producers feel hamstrung by film financiers back home, especially the federal government.

Martin Paul-Hus, a film producer with Amerique Film, has just finished work on Amos Kollek’s “Restless,” a Hebrew-language drama shot in Montreal and structured as an Israel-Germany-France-Canada-Belgium co-production. As he attempts to finance Amos Gitai’s next film — a project based on a Canadian script — he wants Canadian officials to loosen co-production qualification rules to allow more American equity in homegrown films, which will offset reduced financing from Europe where films are increasingly made among European Union member nations.

“It’s ridiculous that we are cutting ourselves off from American equity when we could benefit so much from it,” he argues.

He’s not alone. A growing chorus of producers want more flexibility from Telefilm Canada and other domestic financiers in how they can fund and cast Canadian films, and where they can shoot.

Director Natali waited nearly eight years before he could finance “Splice,” a US$26 million sci-fi thriller that is executive produced by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and 70% funded by Gaumont, with the rest of the financing coming from Canada — primarily taxpayers.

“It’s healthy for Canadian filmmakers to look outside the boundaries of Canada,” Natali says. “Making movies is expensive, and there’s no shame in getting help from outside the country.”

“Splice” is typical of a new breed of Canadian film that avoids local stereotypes and cliched subject matter like hockey, beavers or maple syrup. Other recent local productions that break from the mold include Francois Girard’s “Silk,” a Canada-Italy co-production starring Keira Knightley and Alfred Molina, and Roger Spottiswoode’s “Shake Hands With the Devil,” a true-life story of a former Canadian general who led an ill-fated UN mission in Rwanda during that nation’s 1994 genocide.

Also telling a Canadian story in an international setting is Jeremy Podeswa’s “Fugitive Pieces,” a Canada-Greece co-production that portrays a child’s escape from wartime Poland to Greece and Canada.

Although set in Canada, these films are often not what Telefilm Canada has in mind as a means to showcase homegrown talent and tell uniquely Canadian stories.

Of course, Canada’s best-known directors shooting overseas has been a boon to local emerging filmmakers. And Canadian soundstages and production crews are more readily available to low-budget pictures since the number of American producers shooting in Canada continues to fall amid the surging Canadian dollar and labor instability back in Los Angeles.

Toronto-based filmmaker Ben Mazzotta is currently financing his latest film, a dramatic thriller and follow-up to “The Limits,” his 2007 feature set in a seedy Toronto motel. Mazzotta says he intends to shoot his second film in Canada, but possibly with Canadian actors and with American equity. “I can understand (Telefilm Canada’s) mandate,” he says. “They’re using taxpayer dollars. But ultimately I want to tell a story that goes beyond borders and could play everywhere.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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