Although Canadians have made an impact in American film (for instance, the highest grossing movie of all time, Titanic, was directed and written by a Canadian), the Cinema of Canada is difficult to characterize and trace as a whole. Canadian filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Paul Haggis and Norman Jewison have all received accolades and awards from the world's most prestigious honorary organizations, but industries and communities tend to be regional and niche in nature.
Much of Canada's film industry services American producers and money, with films geared towards mainstream North American audiences, and this part of the industry has been nick-named "Hollywood North".
Alliance Atlantis is currently the largest and most successful Canadian media company, and is the major Canadian distributor of American and international films. In fact, in the fall, 2003, it ceased to produce films (and almost all television) to focus instead on distribution. Lions Gate Entertainment has also become a major distributor in recent years.
One particular film production house, the National Film Board of Canada, has become internationally famous for its animation and documentary production. More recently it has been criticized for its increasingly commercial orientation; only one third of its budget is now spent on the production of new films.
A typical Canadian production is made with money from a complex array of government funding and incentives, government mandated funds from broadcasters, broadcasters themselves, and film distributors. International co-productions are increasingly important for Canadian producers.
Smaller films are often funded by arts councils (at all levels of government) and film collectives.
As in all cinema, the line between broadcast and cinema continues to be blurred in Canada.
Of all Canadian cultural industries, English-Canadian cinema has the hardest time escaping the shadow of its American counterpart. Between the marketing budgets of mainstream films, and the largely US-controlled film distribution networks, it has been nearly impossible for most distinctively Canadian films to break through to a wide audience. In many Canadian cities, in fact, moviegoers do not even have the option of seeing such films, as they are not shown at any theatres. As a result, a Canadian film is often considered a runaway hit if it makes as little as $1 million at the box office.
French-Canadian films, on the other hand, are often more successful—as with French-language television, the language difference makes Quebec audiences much more receptive to Canadian-produced film. In most years, the top-grossing Canadian film is a French-language film from Quebec (see Cinema of Quebec).
For many years the most successful Canadian film of all time at the Canadian box office was Porky's. Porky's record was widely reported as broken in 2006 by the bilingual police comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop, but that assessment does not take inflation into account. Porky's still retains its status as the most successful Canadian film internationally, much to the chagrin of many Canadian arts commentators.
As a result of the economic challenges involved in Canadian film production, film funding is often provided by government bodies such as Telefilm Canada, and CBC Television is often a Canadian film's most lucrative potential market. However, an established network of film festivals also provide important marketing and audience opportunities for Canadian films. The major festival is the Toronto International Film Festival and is considered one of the most important events in North American film, showcasing Hollywood films, cinema from around the world, and Canadian film. The smaller Vancouver International Film Festival features films from around the world, and festivals in Montreal, Sudbury (Cinéfest), and Halifax (Atlantic Film Festival)—among other cities—are also important opportunities for Canadian filmmakers to gain exposure among more populist film audiences.
By comparison, Australian films, made in a country with a smaller population than Canada's, may make their money back from their respective domestic markets. Many do comparatively better; the best known example is Mad Max, made with the then unknown Mel Gibson, and with a budget of AU$350,000, and which made AU$5.6 million in its domestic release alone.
Although many Canadians have made their names in Hollywood, they have often started their careers in Los Angeles, despite Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal being thriving filmmaking centres in their own right. Some actors or directors who have started their early careers in Canada include: David Cronenberg, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Ivan Reitman, Eugene Levy, Tom Green and Paul Haggis. However, despite these successes, several actors have favoured moving to Los Angeles to further pursue their careers.
Canada's difficulties in the film industry are often difficult to explain. The following explanations have been proposed for why Canadian films and television have often failed completely to find an export market:
Meatballs makes an excellent case study on common criticisms of the Canadian film industry. Produced and shot entirely in Canada on a budget of CA$1,600,000, it was a tremendous hit, one of the most financially successful Canadian films of all time.
Although it takes place in a summer camp, there is nothing recognizably Canadian about the location or the characters.
The starring role went to a nearly unknown American whose chief claim to fame was replacing Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live - Bill Murray, in his earliest featured film role. The chief love interest was played by Canadian Kate Lynch, who won the Genie Award that year for Best Actress. The casting of Americans in the Tax-Shelter Era, as well as today, often caters to an American audience. However, it provided Murray with his breakout role, which quickly led to major roles in Where the Buffalo Roam, Caddyshack, and Stripes.
Almost all of its box office gross was in the United States, where it took in US$43,000,000. It received a much more limited release in Canada. Despite its success, the sequel, Meatballs II, was made in the United States with a largely American cast. It was quickly forgotten, along with its Canadian produced follow-up, Meatballs III. None of the sequels even reached US$6 million in general release.
The Department of Canadian Heritage gave Telefilm Canada more funds in 2001 to help develop the Canadian film industry, with the goal of having Canadian feature films obtain 5% of the domestic box office by 2005. Telefilm divided this between English films then capturing 4% of the market and French films at 12%. At first, the new initiative did not seem to be making much progress: at the end of 2003, English films represented only 1% of the domestic box office, while French films made up 20%. The overall goal of the Canada Feature Film Fund now is to have Canadian feature films capture 5% of the domestic box office by 2006, one year behind schedule.
According to Telefilm Canada, 'From Script to Screen', the two year old feature film policy created to improve the success rate of Canadian films, is seeing results. Before the initiative, the market share for Canadian films was 1.4% and is now 3.6%. Furthermore, the French-language cinema accounts for 20% of the market.
In recent years, there has been a cultural resurgence in Canada's aforementioned documentary stream. Films exploring Canada's identity and role on the world stage have become popular. Due to a political and social split between their American counterparts, Canadian independent documentaries have begun garnering a cult status. Current examples are Mark Achbar's award winning and top grossing Canadian feature documentary The Corporation, and Albert Nerenberg's underground hit Escape to Canada. These films not only nurture homegrown talent, inspiring local industry but also creating a unique voice for Canada itself.
Canadian film tends to be more director-driven than star-driven, and have much more in common with the European auteur model of filmmaking than with the Hollywood star system. The most famous Canadian film directors are very often the real star power of their films, more so than the actors they cast.
Some of the more notable Canadian film directors include:
See also Canadian film directors.