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30 April 2011

Canadian Documentary Filmmakers Under Threat

For every Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock out there, there is a Michael Ostroff. Or a legion of Ostroffs, really, trying to make Canadian documentaries.

“I haven’t had a day’s work since I finished Winds of Heaven in January, last year. Not in film,” Ostroff, 60, said in Vancouver last week, where he was screening his Emily Carr documentary.

“For me, it’s a catastrophe. It’s a crisis, absolutely.”

Winds of Heaven, with an $860,000 budget, had its broadcast premiere on Bravo! in January – the Ottawa-based filmmaker’s fourth documentary to run on the channel over the last decade. But a year ago, when he tried to pitch a follow-up project, he was told that Bravo! was not accepting documentary proposals.

The current climate is what the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) calls a “perfect storm” for its sector. Along with the changes at Bravo!, there was the cancellation of The Lens by CBC in 2009 (which presented 63 original Canadian documentaries in three-and-a-half years) and a reduction in so-called one-off documentary programming elsewhere. There’s also been the recession, the disappearance of the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, new requirements for Canada Media Fund financing and so-called genre creep – where reality TV has been classified as documentary.

“Our community’s under threat,” says Lisa Fitzgibbons, executive director of the DOC. “We are seeing a dramatic decline in the production volume.”

According to the DOC, English documentary production in Canada has fallen below 2000-01 levels, and some 2,000 direct and indirect jobs have disappeared over the last five years.

At the same time, documentary festivals such as Hot Docs, which opens on Thursday in Toronto, and Vancouver’s DOXA, which opens next week, are growing.

Read further here.

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