Local filmmaker Nettie Wild, who was honoured with an achievement award for her contributions to the British Columbia film industry at the 10th annual Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards on January 11, is sounding the alarm about the state of Canadian independent documentary filmmaking.
“There’s a real confusion upon the land about what a documentary is, which is why this award is nicely timed because it’s by critics who know what they’re talking about,” Wild told the Straight in an interview prior to the awards presentation at the Railway Club. “When you take a look at broadcasters and policy makers, work like mine is lumped in with reality TV and what they refer to as information programming.”
Although she loves watching shows like So You Think You Can Dance, she said, “I just don’t want it to exist to the exclusion of my art form.” Wild pointed out that high-profile documentaries such as The Cove and Food, Inc., and Michael Moore’s work aren’t Canadian examples. “At a time when the documentary film is being really celebrated,” she added, “in fact it’s harder now to make these films than it was 20 years ago when I first started.”
Wild’s body of work includes the Genie Award–winning A Place Called Chiapas (1998); A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution (1988); FIX: The Story of an Addicted City (2002), about the campaign to open a supervised-injection site in the Downtown Eastside; and Bevel Up: Drugs, Users & Outreach Nursing (2007), an interactive teaching DVD about street nurses working in the Eastside.
All of these docs will be screened in a retrospective of her films at the Pacific Cinémathí¨que (1131 Howe Street) from January 15 to 17. The series will double as the launch of the book Wild at Heart: The Films of Nettie Wild (Anvil Press), which features an interview by Claudia Medina and an essay by Straight film reviewer Mark Harris.
The current problem, Wild said, is that today broadcasters are saying, “”˜Oh, what’s cheaper to produce? We’ll have reality TV strand, and we will no longer have documentary strand on television.’
“On a federal level, when they look at funding programs and policy makers are slicing and dicing all these policies, and they’ve completely eliminated one fund which makes big educational documentaries possible. And we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what happens with what’s called the Canada Media Fund, see if it’s going to encourage documentary filmmaking or make it an endangered species.”
The Canadian Television Fund and the Canada New Media Fund are being amalgamated into the Canada Media Fund by April 1.
Meanwhile, fellow achievement award winner Leonard Schein, president of Festival Cinemas and founder of the Vancouver International Film Festival, has also seen the film-exhibition industry undergo changes.
As VIFF director Alan Franey pointed out in his presentation speech, Schein worked in the field during the introduction of VHS, and then DVDs.
Now in the age of the Internet, Schein said theatres are contending with demographic shifts. “When I first started 31 years ago,” he said, “people were in their 20s, they were going to our alternative films, and now they’re in their 40s, and 50s, and 60s, and they don’t go to late shows any more. Our late shows are very empty.”
He added that the rise of multiplex theatres has resulted in the demise of neighbourhood cinemas. “People are really forced to go downtown or to go to suburbs to see films, and I think that’s a shame because I think it’s good that people can walk or bicycle or go to some place close. But those days are numbered for all the single-screen theatres in the neighbourhood.”
On the other hand, box offices worldwide have been reporting increased ticket sales in 2009 (foreign box office totals from the six major Hollywood studios hit a record U.S. $10.7 billion), and Schein said the same was true locally. “During recessionary times, people go to movies because”¦it’s a pretty cheap form of entertainment compared to other competitive things.” However, he explained that the Festival Cinemas’ Park Theatre is only now recovering from the impact of Canada Line construction. “It’s been a real struggle not only for us, but all the businesses on Cambie Street.”