Writer-director Kevan Funk’s debut feature Hello Destroyer has had a pretty good year by Canadian film industry standards. The Prince George-set story of a junior hockey player caught up in the aftermath of a severe on-ice incident screened at both TIFF and VIFF in 2016 to critical acclaim. Last Sunday (June 4), the film scored screenplay, directing, and best picture trophies at B.C.’s Leo Awards.
But in an interview with the Georgia Straight after the ceremony, Funk commented on an uphill battle still facing the producers of Hello Destroyer, and an attitude that he feels is far too prevalent in the industry.
“We had no interest from Canadian broadcasters, no interest from Canadian distributors, no one gave a shit about our movie except Telefilm,” said Funk. “We still don’t have a Canadian broadcaster buying this movie that’s won a bunch of awards, that’s set in the world of hockey. Like—this should be an easy sell. And that’s fucking brutal. If you’re gonna tell me that you can’t sell this to a Canadian audience, I think that’s very laughable. But that’s the reality, people are lazy and risk averse in that part of the industry.”
During the team's best picture acceptance speech, producer Haydn Wazelle mentioned that he initially encouraged Funk against making another hockey movie. Funk, however, pointed out to the Straight that he had larger themes in mind for Hello Destroyer.
“To me, there was always a playful, tongue-in-cheek tension about making a hockey movie, even though you’re making the antithesis of a hockey movie,” he said. “The film’s hardly about hockey. There’s about 30 seconds of hockey in it. I used it because I wanted to make a very Canadian film and I needed a big cultural institution talking about systemic issues of violence.”
Meanwhile, the film has been well received by audiences and critics, but it’s hardly been seen by theatre-goers outside of the festival circuit. “The reality is that even a film like ours that’s relatively successful for the scale it is—winning awards and having a lot of exposure—there’s just not screens you can get on, because they’re owned by American companies,” noted Funk, who suggested a solution similar to the CRTC stipulations that require 35% Canadian content to be played on commercial radio.
“We actually have a monopoly right now, and incentivizing getting some of these films out would break up that monopoly,” he said. “That’s where I get frustrated with the free market argument of: ‘Just put these films out and see how they do.’ It’s like—no, you can’t. The money that Hollywood spends marketing one movie is, like, Telefilm’s operating budget for the year. It’s a ridiculous parallel.”
Aside from putting pressure on institutions to support original stories, Funk also spoke to the responsibility of filmmakers to fight for their own voice, and to tell the stories of their communities. “I think there are a lot of people who give up on trying to make something definitively Canadian and I think there’s a bit of responsibility there,” said Funk. “We have to be less passive and fight for the territory we want, because it’s crowded.”
The filmmaker emphasized that he was proud to see his film win at the Leo Awards, speaking to the fact that opportunities to celebrate and share original Canadian film are unfortunately too rare. “Like any national cinema outside of Hollywood, you’re stuck in a small world,” said Funk. “Opportunities to elevate films are what’s important. Whether they’re award shows, whether they’re film festivals, whether it’s just marketing, we need more space.”