Tuesday, March 04, 2008

KEEP TELLING YOURSELF: IT'S ONLY A MOVIE

Pretty much everywhere you look around the Canadian Showbiz Web, you'll find people expressing their outrage at Bill C-10 and the spectre of government censorship of the arts. And on most of those sites, you'll also find a comment string riddled with input from those who don't have much use for most of what gets produced in Canadian film and TV, usually posting as "Anonymous".

The ensuing debate has become more strident and ugly as members of the Christian Right and those who don't want to subsidize the Arts in the first place have either taken credit for percipitating this change or championed it as a step toward protecting the nation from the improper influences of its artists.

As an artist who's been a victim of censorship and marginalized for doing work that some consider, if not contrary to Public Policy, certainly contrary to how the people in power would like things to be, I'm fully opposed to C-10.

If you're in favor of it, however, I hope you'll take a moment to read the rest of this post. Because I'm here to tell you that it isn't good for you either. It won't improve one thing in your life and those in Ottawa who are supporting it do not really have your best interests at heart.

They're using you, the same way they're using us.


First of all, I want you to know that I'm a lot like you. I was born into a very Christian household. My mom was a Sunday school teacher. And both my parents spent a great deal of time teaching me right from wrong and to be self-reliant and independent.

The artists I work with might come from a variety of backgrounds, but you probably couldn't single any of us out on the street, at a party, or while watching our kids play your kids at a hockey arena on a Saturday morning.

I've been making Canadian films and television for more than 35 years. Apparently, I'm good enough at what I do that I've had many offers to leave and work somewhere else and accepted quite a few of them. Came back more than once. Maybe it's that Socratic, "Every man is born where he belongs" thing. Maybe the work here matters in ways that it doesn't in other lands. Maybe I just want to live in a place where a love of hockey isn't considered "troubling". All I know is, I'm here.

During my time in the biz, I've broken most of the Commandments, but I think I can honestly say I never intentionally hurt anybody.

I did nude scenes as an actor, tons of sex scenes, lots of movies where blood and guts sprayed all over the place. I played characters who espoused anarchy, brutality, cruelty or genocide and harmed small children and puppies. I also played Saints and martyrs and men of the cloth along with heroes who did "what a man's gotta do".

Some of those characters might have repulsed you, or frightened you or given you inspiration and courage. But they weren't real. They were only movies.

The first film I ever made was called "The Last Detail" and starred Jack Nicholson as a sailor who cursed a blue streak from the opening credits to the final frame. My mom, the Sunday school teacher, went to see it with her bowling team. The theatre manager tried to stop them from buying tickets, worried they'd be scandalized and complain. They weren't. They laughed and hooted and stood up to cheer every time I got a close-up.

None of those women left their husbands or turned to a life of depravity because of the salacious activities they witnessed that afternoon. They had a couple of hours of fun. It was only a movie.

As a writer I wrote more sex and violence. I crafted speeches for men who wanted to commit horrific crimes and overthrow governments, who hated people because of their religion and the color of their skin. I made some people say the most insulting and outrageous things. But they weren't real. They were only movies.

Tabloids used to link episodes of "Friday the 13th" I wrote to copycat murders, often in places where the show had never been seen. The Reverend Donald Wildmon once accused me of replicating a Satanic Mass word for word. But I'd studied Latin because I wanted to go to medical school and those horrible men in black robes about to conduct a human sacrifice in a dark forest were actually chanting a chorus of "The Teddy Bears Picnic" (If you go down in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise...). It wasn't real. It was only a movie.

My producing career has followed the same path. And much as my job is to make you think it's real -- it's not. The blood is food coloring and corn syrup. The gun is rubber. The leading lady's cleavage isn't all her. I'm just making a buck and the stuff I make is still only a movie.

I hope that what I do sometimes does more than entertain; that I might make some in the audience think about things more clearly or more deeply because of what they witness from my hand. But I honestly don't believe I do any more than put people in touch with what they are already capable of seeing or feeling or becoming.

I light a path. They take their road through their own choosing.

The implication in Bill C-10 is that by controlling art we make society better -- and that's a lie.

What the good people who populate your Government don't tell you is that there are already laws against violent pornography and preaching hatred. If my movies include that stuff, I've got bigger things than lost tax credits to worry about.

So -- why are they doing this C-10 thing? Well, it might be that they're edging away from funding the arts. But I'm convinced it's really to make people like you think they're actually doing something.

But they're not -- and unfortunately, this part is not a movie.

And a lot of artists will get hurt and lose their livelihoods because banks won't fund films and television lacking cost certainty; just so our Government can make you think they're getting at the porn and violent hip-hop videos you don't like and maybe wrestling society in general back to traditional family values.

But Bill C-10 will not stop any of the things you see on television or down at the Cineplex that already upset you. Read the text of the legislation. We have to do something that is "contrary to Public policy" before we're muzzled.

Didn't like those two cowpokes getting it on in "Brokeback Mountain"? Sorry, Canadian cowboys can do that. Hell, they can get a marriage license to go along with such shenanigans if they want. Or they can forego the license and the Stetsons and just get it on atop a float on a downtown street during Pride Week.

None of that is contrary to public policy.

Didn't think it was right that "Juno" girl made teen pregnancy look fun? Well, nothing in Public policy says teens can't have sex -- or get pregnant -- or imply that it's fun. That kid stays in her picture.

Hate it when those Muslims on "Little Mosque" make cracks about Christians? Well, chances are that's going to keep happening -- and maybe even get funnier. Nothing in public policy says we can't goof with each other.

And just so we're clear, I don't think things will change much from an artistic perspective either. Robert Lantos can refer to you guys as "Barbarians" but only because he'd really like people to believe he isn't one. And Atom Egoyan can bluster about maintaining his artistic freedom, but that only means he wants to continue to be boring.

No, as usual, this is about politicians using us to make you look one way while they're busy somewhere else.

Let's talk about Pornography first.

That nice man from the cable company, Jim Shaw, makes a shitload of money from selling porn. So does grandfatherly old Ted Rogers. Even those people at the staid and respectable Globe and Mail are in company with Bell Expressvu where a big chunk of the profits come from selling porn.

They call it Pay-per-View or Movies on Demand and most of what they sell through those services is the raunchy stuff. Personnally, I could care less. Canadians seem to like watching people "do it" and I'm completely in favor of giving an audience what they want.

I know it makes you feel "icky" but the point here is that all of those porn peddling companies are licensed by the Government. Not only licensed but paying through the nose so they can have exclusive territories in which to ply their trade.

So, if your elected representatives really wanted to do something about "smut", they'd go after Jim and Ted and somebody at Bell. But they don't.

In fact, if you check the donations made to all those politicians making sure no tax money goes toward producing pornography, you'll find they've all received significant contributions from Jim and Ted and that guy at Bell -- money that comes from the very "art" your MP says he doesn't want to support.

Let's turn to violence and offending a particular group, the other things the secret panel empowered by C-10 will review.

It's been my experience that few Canadian films opt for "the good old ultra-violence" or go out of their way to imply, for example, that all Arabs are terrorists. That's the kind of thing you tend to find in American films. Movies like "Hostel", "The Kingdom", "John Rambo" and the like, trade fairly equally in copious blood and racial or ethnic stereotypes.

Last year, somewhere around 3% of movie admissions in Canada were paid to see a Canadian movie. So even with Bill C-10. 97% of what's bothering you now is going to be bothering you in the future.

Last year, only 4% of Canadian prime time programming on our major networks was Canadian. Which always makes me wonder why "Anonymous" gets so exercised over how much those crappy Canadian shows are ruining his viewing experience.

Maybe he doesn't nap through most shows like the rest of us -- or he's permanently lost the remote between the couch cushions and is stuck watching "Designer Guys" repeats. The fact is, it doesn't take much effort to get through a couple of weeks without seeing anything more Canadian than the cellphone rodents.

According to stats that came out yesterday, Canadian networks as a whole spent 12 and a half times more on foreign product than the home grown stuff. ($462 Million compared to $36.5 Million) And all of those networks were at the CRTC last month, pushing hard to spend even more on the foreign (and more violent and stereotypical) stuff and less on Canadian production -- so not much of what you're offended by or you feel is adversely influencing your kids is going to change either.

You C-10 supporters are being played.

Beyond putting an economic stranglehold on an industry already choking for a lack financial oxygen, virtually nothing you see on TV or in a movie theatre will be any different.

And what's more, nothing's going to alter on all those reality shows you're offended by with the Paris Hiltons of the world or the magazine shows that follow around those same Paris Hiltons when they're not doing reality shows -- because neither genre qualifies for tax credits in the first place.

"The Trailer Park Boys" may disappear, but Ben Mulroney will live forever!

So maybe this really is only about getting rid of film subsidies.

And frankly, I'm not shedding any tears over that eventuality either. Applying for tax credits already takes up more of my time and energy than they're worth, along with killing a small forest to produce the paperwork. Trust me, the only people making money from the current government subsidy system are Grand & Toy.

Look, I don't begrudge you wanting to see your tax money being spent somewhere else. I see a lot of mine go for public schools I don't use and unemployment insurance I can't collect. I'd love to have other sources of money so I didn't feel like I was going on welfare every time I put a project into development.

All it would take is for the Government to allow some investment incentives so the industry could support itself. But that would mean they'd have no more control over what the artists in this country have to say -- or be able to weasel guest shots on "Corner Gas" -- so I'm not sure that'll work for them.

Anonymous and friends -- I'm afraid we're stuck with each other for the time being. And I'll be interested in your reaction when this Government decides to apply the system they're imposing on us on you.

Churches now have tax free status. But imagine if the tax advantages that have been granted to your place of worship had to undergo a performance review by an unnamed panel at the Department of Justice. It could require your church to forego those tax benefits if a member of your clergy had molested children, not reported a confessed crime or maybe just couldn't prove they had actually gotten anybody into Heaven.

After all, abusing children, failure to co-operate with law enforcement and fraud are all "contrary to public policy".

And how would you feel if your church wasn't allowed to be "contrary to public policy" in its day to day operations?

There would be a lot of things in your holy books you wouldn't be allowed to say in public because they constitute hate speech and those gay cowboys would be within their rights to show up and threaten to sue if you didn't perform a marriage ceremony for them.

The shoe would be on the other foot then, wouldn't it?

Or maybe that's the shoe that drops next...

Keep telling yourself it could only happen in a movie.

But you'd be wrong.

14 comments:

Cunningham said...

Testify, Brother Jim, testify!

gdott said...

My goodness Jim. There's nothing left to say. Well put.

Mac said...

Your insight into this subject (and it's many angles) is far better than that of some journalists who venture to cover the subject. My own view is that the real agenda is to 'wean' the industry off public funds. If that is the case, let the government come out and honestly say that so we can all get to work on alternative financing models that don't involve dancing the dance.

JA Goneaux said...

Well, Jim, you made some good points, and some self-serving ones, but at least even you admit: the system we have now doesn't work very well.

We have the "History" Channel broadcasting "CSI: New York", because New York is a historical city. Keanu Reeves and Val Kilmer are in every second movie on APTN because they are 1/whatever native.

And most recently, a Canadian director filming a movie in Canada with a Canadian crew and a Canadian star wasn't Canadian enough for a Canadian award.

If you are only killing trees by applying for tax credits, isn't that some sort of proof SOMETHING needs to be done?

And if the phrase "public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy" is what is getting you upset, can you tell us what you said when Sheila Copps and the Liberals brought in the same language:

http://www.fin.gc.ca/news03/data/03-058_1e.html

BTW, nice blog. And I hope R. Scott Gemmill gives you some props for his success! (Yes, this is the James from 71-W at Sheridan. I still have that Adderly bible...)

jimhenshaw said...

Nice to hear from you James.

You're right, the system does not work -- probably for anybody. But you don't improve it by making life impossible for one of the stakeholders.

And this isn't a partisan political issue. The original language for C-10 came from the Liberals and all parties voted for it, clearly exhibiting that they either didn't understand the implications or have about the same use for an artistic community that might question "public policy".

As a kid growing up in Canada, I could never get my head around all those stories where governments went after artists, imprisoned writers and the like. It just never made any sense. Why go after them? What're they gonna do?

It's taken me a long time to realize just how subversive we are -- even when subversive thoughts never enter our heads.

The mere fact that somebody might question authority, have a different idea about a law or offer a different take on the way things are is clearly terrifying to some people.

But if that questioning isn't allowed to happen, nobody grows and a lot of problems just get worse.

Like I said, great to hear from you -- stay in touch.

Jim

Ken said...

If weasel guest shots on Corner Gas are what it takes to keep the boat afloat I'm all for them. Thanks for this blog post, Jim. The concerned parties (the ones with clout and/or an axe to grind) would learn from it.

meatgeemale said...

Hi Jim...long time no see!!! It would seem to me that the language used in C-10, is so vague that it can only be interpreted as a "catch all" if and when the gov wants to use it! Any production that criticizes gov policy or military incompetence or questionable big business, could fall under the banner of "contrary to public policy" Could not shows like "The Border" or "ZOS" fall afoul of this wording? I see a much bigger elephant in the room!!!

Brandon Laraby said...

"So -- why are they doing this C-10 thing? Well, it might be that they're edging away from funding the arts. But I'm convinced it's really to make people like you think they're actually doing something."

Now if only they hadn't worked so hard to hide it deep in the bowels of a 600+ page document - with nary a word from them until it hit.

I'd almost believe that.

This reads to me like groundwork, plain and simple. Lay the tracks down now so you can run the train through later - cowpuncher and all.

And, luckily, a good number of well-informed, tax-paying citizens aim to stop them.

Mentok said...

1. It's not censorship. Censorship would be if the government said the movie couldn't be made or shown. If my kid didn't get a government scholarship, I couldn't say "the government has banned my kid from college." There's a huge difference between not actively supporting something and banning it.

2. One of the reasons all parties supported the legislation (besides the fact that the bureaucracy recommended it) is that, since Trudeau's time, film funds and tax credits have been repeatedly exploited by producers of cheap-shit slasher movies, which are on about the same cultural plane as porn in my view. The politicos and bureaucrats alike were getting sick of being played for suckers by two-bit film hustlers hiding behind the title "artist".

3. The Christian Right had nothing to do with this, other than falsely claiming credit for it.

4. Are you suggesting that the tax money spent on schools and unemployment insurance is being wasted? No, I didn't think you were. I'm suggesting the public funding invested into Prom Night was grotesquely wasted. But, no, I'm not suggesting public funds invested in Away From Her were wasted - far from it. Try comparing apples to apples.

5. You are a master of irony! You cite that line about "people must believe they are not being manipulated in order to be manipulated" just before launching into a tirade of rhetoric, propaganda and selective interpretation/reporting of facts.

Here's another cliche: when you point a finger, there's four pointing back at you.

Mentok said...

I read this again.. and again... and your point actually became less clear on successive readings. I'm not sure any of the stuff I wrote before is even relevant.

I think the point you're ultimately trying to make is that the Christian right and Can-con haters are being duped by this legislation.

If that is what you're saying, then yup you're totally right. Brokerage politics, gotta love it. The ultra-right has lost virtually every policy battle within the Tory party. So now the Tories throw them a tiny little bone by reviving this dormant piece of funding legislation which really does nothing and changes nothing (it was, after all, originally invented by Liberals).

So now the bible thumpers will all go out and happily pound doors and put up lawn signs next election, despite the fact that the Tories have all but completely ignored their agenda.

Pretty good trick, no? So tell me again: why are you opposed to C-10?

Wil Z said...

Mentok,

1. You're right. This isn't censorship. Censorship implies the banning or mangling of a completed work. This is an interdiction and much more insidious. To use your analogy, the government didn't ban your kid from college, but they didn't allow him to claim school on his taxes because he's a loudmouth, all the while knowing that he couldn't get student loans without the tax break.

2. The hustlers come with the show. It's the nature of the beast. But here's a newsflash: the hustlers don't give a shit about content. They can exploit ANYTHING. This sort of legislation won't slow them down one bit.

3. If it quacks like a duck...

4. All those "wasted" tax dollars poured into Prom Night created or sustained a large number of very productive careers. Paul Lynch went on to direct a hundred TV shows -- everything from Murder She Wrote to Star Trek. The craftspeople involved with that one little "slasher" flick fed their families and created an industry. Many are still working today and are at the top of their field.

5. Huh?

jimhenshaw said...

"Duped" is the correct interpretation Mentok.

My opposition is two-fold. Once for being the perenial "Arts" whipping boy that various governments trot out to draw fire while they continue to fund Automakers who create cars nobody wants, oil exploration that isn't environmentally responsible and any number of other initiatives supporting the status quo instead of providing direction and leadership to the ecomnomy.

Second -- while C-10 will have little or impact on content, it's economic impact on the industry is massive.

That's because going into production I can't determine if my project will "offend" someone reviewing it in its completed form. But my financing, which includes tax credits must be locked in up front.

Banks and completion guarantors will not bridge finance without budget certainty and if they know the tax credits might be denied, they pull their money off the table.

it's just that simple.

jimhenshaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

"could care less" Agggggggghhhhhhhh. Otherwise very interesting.