Fake CanCon

I was glad to see the Globe and Mail‘s Kate Taylor run a piece about an issue that is becoming more and more important in Canadian TV: shows that are, technically, Canadian Content, therefore fulfilling CanCon quotas, but aren’t actually Canadian in any meaningful sense. I’m not talking about point of view or perspective or any of those subjective things; shows like The Borgias (which was just renewed for another season) and The Tudors are not Canadian because the creative people on them are not Canadians; Canadian involvement is financial, plus a certain number of Canadian actors. But by that standard, Star Wars is an English film.

Granted, it’s sometimes hard to define the exact nationality of a production. The international co-production is not new to television (though co-pros like The Borgias are bigger productions than most co-pros of the past), and even older in film: directors would get financing for their films from all over the world, maybe even shoot in multiple languages the way Jean Renoir did with The Golden Coach, and you couldn’t say whether this was a French or Italian or English picture.

But suppose Italy didn’t have much of a functioning Italian-language film industry, and tried to pass off films by French or American directors as examples of the health of Italian film? That’s the issue that lingers when it comes to Canadian co-pros. It’s not that these shouldn’t be made, and they certainly do a good thing by employing Canadian actors. They’re just mostly not relevant to the future of the English-language Canadian TV industry, any more than U.S. shows shot in Vancouver or Toronto – at best they show that our investors and (for the ones shot in Canada) technicians can compete on an international level. The situation remains that our English-language writers have to go to the U.S. to be taken seriously.

Whether CanCon quotas need to be changed to reflect this is something I don’t feel qualified to comment on; in any case, I don’t think our networks would be jumping to make genuine CanCon in any case. We always come back to the same old problem: a healthy film or TV industry comes about because studios/networks think it’s worth their while financially, or at least that it could be. The real question is why they think a show by Canadian writers in Canada won’t sell – and whether they’re right (I don’t think they are, but who knows, the way things are set up?).

It might be better, though, if shows like The Tudors were not eligible for awards here. Canadian awards don’t mean a huge amount to the country as a whole, but when a British series wins the Canadian award for best TV series, it can’t help the perception of actual Canadian TV.

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