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Drama funding in crosshairs as Telefilm looks at further cuts

Carolle Brabant is the executive director of Telefilm Canada.

Domenico Stinellis/Domenico Stinellis/AP

First came Telefilm Canada's cuts in funding for documentaries. Next to be hit: dramas.

In addition to $2.7-million in spending cuts announced last month, Telefilm plans to slash nearly $8-million in funding and administrative costs over the next two years, including money for the production and distribution of dramas. The cuts are part of the 10-per-cent, or $10.6-million, reduction in Telefilm's budget mandated by the federal government, similar to the 10-per-cent cuts imposed on the CBC and the National Film Board of Canada.

However, Telefilm is looking for new partners and is restructuring its operations to replace some of that lost funding.

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When the film-financing agency announced its first round of cuts in April, the documentary community felt especially hard-pressed. Money for documentaries was chopped in half, from $1-million to $500,000.

This is Telefilm's only funding toward the actual production of documentaries. Other reductions faced by filmmakers included $700,000 in cuts from development-funding programs and $500,000 from film promotion and training programs.

The documentary cuts have been a central topic within the filmmaking community at the Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto this week – for filmmakers know that cuts to dramas are coming next.

"When we started last year to evaluate all of our 37 programs, we felt that it was a big task to attack all of these programs in a given year," said Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm. "So that's why we decided that development, promotion, as well as documentaries, would be the first group of programs that we would target.

"But that means that this year, we're going to be looking at production and distribution [of dramas] And there is still close to $8-million [in cuts]to be found," she said.

Telefilm plans to announce the rest of the cuts in the coming months and have them in effect by April, 2013.

There are already signs of what's to come.

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The $700,000 reduction in development funding announced in April means that Telefilm will be looking more for filmmakers with proven track records. That doesn't mean Telefilm will be aiding only commercially oriented films, Brabant said. The application process for directors who regularly receive critical acclaim, such as Guy Maddin, will also be streamlined, she added.

Meanwhile, Telefilm will be maintaining its new $1-million program for emerging filmmakers making movies with "micro budgets" of $250,000 or less. That program was launched in March.

There's the risk that a further $8-million in cuts could deliver a sharp blow to the industry. However, Brabant argues that a large amount of Telefilm's development funding was going toward projects that never got sold to distributors or made it onto the screen, a common risk in the film industry. The aim is to cut off that excess.

"Of course it's painful for people we're saying no to," Brabant said. "We're hopeful that if we're able to promote Canadian films a little better that there will be alternative sources of financing."

Those funding alternatives will include new partners working with Telefilm, she added.

The documentary-production funding, for example, is currently a partnership between Telefilm and Rogers Group of Funds, the production-funding arm of Rogers Communications. Rogers was contributing $500,000, and up until April 1 Telefilm was contributing $1-million for a total of $1.5-million, Brabant said. Telefilm has now had to cut its share in half.

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Telefilm is in talks with the NFB and other organizations to find a new partner to replace the reduced amount. She is confident one will be named soon. "We should be in a position to announce the partner in a few weeks," Brabant said.

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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