Mémoire – 30 november 2006



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All human beings attain maturity when they can look at themselves in the mirror, knowing who and what they are, and perhaps, when they can also laugh at themselves. The same thing is true of cultures in general: whenever they banish or forbid images, they apply a brake to their own development by forcing their members to withdraw within themselves.
If it’s true that such a practice might have been without much consequence in the medieval period, any society today which conforms to such a measure is condemned to its own slow but sure asphyxiation. As is the case with individuals, each culture needs this reflection of itself, to highlight images of both its strengths and contradictions.
These self-portraits provide a multitude of ways to project oneself into present and future situations, as well as offering reminders of where we have come from. What’s more, this is how future generations are enabled to see and better understand what made up the lives and challenges of their parents and grandparents. And again, these portraits act like so many visiting cards, which can be presented, to other cultures around the planet, especially in an era when exchanges between nations are of paramount importance.
Is it possible to imagine a more detailed, more complete portrait of Canadian lifestyles than that provided by cinema, in both its documentary and fictional aspects, and our television dramas? Everyday life, the particularities of various milieu as well as the major issues of each period are all described in great detail, from the craziest to the most controversial. These portraits are enriched by the fact they include, and at the same time make better known, the other artistic resources of our society at any given period. These include dance, music, theatre, literature, art and sculpture, all of which help colour the many facets of who we are today, Earth dwellers of the Third Millennium.
In this dynamic period of exchanges between peoples far and wide, Canada, and even more so Québec, are particularly well placed.
For over 20 years now, Quebeckers have been enjoying their own television series to such an extent that Canadian programs in French count for more than 84% of total Québec television viewing time. Furthermore, the 20 most often viewed programs on the conventional networks are Québec productions. In recent times, a similar phenomenon has been experienced with Québec cinema. In only 10 years, Quebec cinema attendance has grown from 550,000 to nearly 5 million spectators per year, representing an annual growth of 27.5%. At the same time, total cinema attendance in Québec grew by only 2.6% (1) annually.
Without any doubt, the quality is there. So how could anyone refute the existence of such an obvious need, which this popular support confirms? In any case, there are numerous other countries that are more than a little envious of our high degree of audience penetration.
Nevertheless, it would be both presumptuous and dangerous to take this success for granted. None of this happened by magic, nor was anything built in a day, nor even in a decade. A long period of trial and error was needed, with constant reviewing and much imagination and goodwill in order to set up new policies designed to provide better-targeted public support. For more than thirty years, we have deployed our efforts, determination and talent in order to achieve these results.
This success is partly the result of investments made by public financial organizations, but conventional television networks have also played their part. Such investments have led to the blossoming of numerous new and talented creators. This is a phenomenon which is going through a remarkably flourishing period, with one success after another inciting the interest of a whole new generation of creators eager to participate in this fertile domain.
So how can we fail to be concerned by preliminary indications that public funding is about to enter a recessionary period? This applies to conventional television networks as well. Do we really have the liberty, as a society, to return to the ups and downs of thirty years ago, when each breakdown was only a prelude for the next, with many others to follow? If such a thing was to occur, would we have the capacity and energy required to undertake a similar crusade right from the very beginning, when it has taken so long to bear fruit? We find such a prospect extremely doubtful.
For these reasons, it is urgent if not imperative, not only to maintain but to increase financial support for Canadian drama productions, whether on television or in the cinema, and without forgetting documentaries. These productions, the fruit of the imagination of their creators, whether scriptwriters or directors, reinvent and reflect back to the Canadian population images of themselves, images which help them to evolve as a people. They act as veritable vitamins for the soul. This is why we support all measures aimed at consolidating and expanding support for these creators, including that of authorizing the creation of subscription fees for conventional networks.
Among broadcasters in general, it is the conventional networks which are the primary and principal investors in Canadian drama productions, their involvement being an indispensable condition for obtaining additional public funding.
Furthermore, if the vast proportion of these new revenues were to be invested solely in the area of technological development, such action would constitute a grave error in long-term thinking. When the motor itself is coughing and spluttering, we don’t think of simply giving a new shine to the bodywork. HD television and the movement towards digital technology can only be of interest if the audience for high-quality Canadian drama productions, aimed at viewers of all ages and types, is maintained and increased.
The disaffection of upcoming generations is already something about which we should be concerned. Only by means of drama productions which are able to reach these new audiences, and which use the talents of the numerous young creators waiting in the wings – as is currently occurring among our neighbours to the south – will we be able to cope with this phenomenon.
We must continue to create not only Canadian drama productions of high quality and in large numbers but we must ensure that this genre, both in terms of its themes and its language, renews itself. It would indeed be risky to remain satisfied with the success obtained thus far, and simply continue its recipe. In this field, audacity and experimentation are ingredients which are just as determinant as the sums invested.
Recent history has shown us that it is mainly the public television networks that have dared to invest in these new narrative forms with which modern creators have had the audacity to experiment. The greater financial margins with which they have been able to manoeuvre have no doubt influenced and encouraged their innovation.
After some years, the private conventional networks have also picked up these types of productions, at least those which have had a certain degree of success. The role of the public broadcaster must be one of a prospector. Public networks have to take risks and back new forms invented by our storytellers of tomorrow, exploring new themes which reflect the evolution of the society in which we live. This is why we believe that the additional income that subscription fees will bring to conventional television networks should be available as much to the public sector as to the private.
Yet financing is not all. Access to advantageous exhibition windows is just as important. It is difficult to imagine how growth and increased support for Canadian drama productions and documentaries could be maintained if there was a reduction in the priority accorded to exhibition windows at the same time. Audience size would be compromised from the first year. The left hand will then have destroyed what the right has been so laboriously constructing.
Not only must priority exhibition windows for Canadian drama productions be maintained, but also they must be imposed on all conventional television networks. Existing inequalities no longer have any reason to continue. Furthermore, the windows currently reserved for documentaries must be reviewed because this area is suffering from a degree of marginalization that can scarcely be justified when one considers the important successes that have occurred in this field in recent years.
In the same vein, any increase in advertising time above the 12 minutes already allowed will involve major risks. When added to the self-promotions by the networks themselves, advertising already occupies nearly 25% of each television hour. Above this limit, spectator interest is very likely to decline, especially when one considers the degree of solicitation taking place in today’s society in general. There is a serious risk of making the viewer’s relationship with both the characters and the stories in our drama creations ever more fragmentary and apt to crumble, the more they are slotted in between ever encroaching portions of advertising. Once this relationship has been breached, interest in the stories we write will vanish and once again, the left hand will have brought down everything the right hand has tried to build up.
With respect to an increase in media placement, it is the very essence of these dramas that risks being affected. The drama programs that we create belong to the world of imagination. They allow people to dream and let them penetrate into parts of our universe which are little known, if at all. Product positioning has no place in such an adventure, any more than a giant McDonald’s ad would have in the imaginary space of Alice in Wonderland. Space must be allowed for the imaginary and it must be protected from the greed of mercantile interests.
Lastly, and I will conclude on this note, it should be remembered that the considerable success of our cinema and television drama programs, experienced over the last 20 years, has coincided with the remarkable growth of independent productions during the same period. However, this is a coincidence in appearance only. We should rather speak of cause and effect. Due to their very precariousness, independent productions are obliged to be innovative, audacious, enthusiastic and highly motivated. At the same time, they have to call upon the ongoing inventiveness of scriptwriters and directors who create the works they produce. The competition and emulation which inevitably develops between the various production units further enhances these talents. And the necessarily composite makeup of these creative units and the creators who contribute to them, helps ensure the great diversity of the resulting production units. All these qualities help explain the success which we are having at the moment. But we are also aware that these qualities are likely to decline rapidly in production units that fall directly under the sway of the broadcaster, without mentioning the bureaucracy which automatically accompanies this mode of production integration. For these reasons, we strongly object to any attempt to make programs of public support accessible to production units which are under the governance of the broadcasters.
In summary, the need to increase the investments of conventional broadcasters in the production of Canadian drama programs justifies, by itself, the authorization of a subscription fee. This fee should be granted as much to the conventional networks in the public sector, as to the private. But this measure will only help preserve the quality of the production of Canadian documentaries and dramas if these works continue to be produced by the independent sector. Indeed, the repercussions of such a measure are only likely to bear fruit if the current exhibition windows accorded to conventional broadcasters are maintained, and those of the documentaries improved. Lastly, it is also important that these exhibition windows not be invaded more than they are already by the constricting influence of advertising, to the detriment of the space being allocated to the dreams and imaginary worlds that these programs are there to create for the profit of all Canadians.
This completes our presentation. We are available to answer any questions you may have.
(1) Conference given by M. Jean-Guy Chaput, president of SODEC, to members of the APFTQ, November 2006